Trouble broke out at the top of British Columbia's Marijuana Party on June 6th when party leader Brian Taylor resigned over strategic and leadership differences with party president Marc Emery. Taylor took with him 15 to 20 of the 79 candidates the party fielded in provincial elections this spring.
"Yes, I've resigned," Taylor told DRCNet, "but let's not make more of a dispute out of it than it is. Marc and I met in December to plan the last election, and he asked me to be the leader. His modus operandi always has been to run the organization the way he wants to. He pays the bills, so he thinks he should be able to do that. He's openly said that. That was appropriate for this election because it was an emergency, but it is no way to run a political party," said Taylor.
Cannabis entrepreneur Emery, the publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine and owner of Canada's largest mail-order marijuana seed company, is unapologetic. "If people want to call me anti-democratic, they can," he told DRCNet. "It is not a democracy when the guy who pays the bill calls all the shots, and I call the shots. I've had to personally underwrite the party to the tune of $232,000. All other contributions combined totaled $8,000 or $9,000. When I see a couple of hundred thousand dollars coming in from other people, I'll consider surrendering control.
"I never met a single person in the party who wasn't able to do what he wanted," Emery protested. "My management style is to encourage people to do what they want as long as it's directed at marijuana activism."
Taylor, the former mayor of Grand Forks and currently owner of the Cannabis Research Institute, believes Emery's autocratic vision cannot sustain a political party and is striking out on his own along with the rump group that followed him out of the party. "People rationalized that since we all share common vision, we've been able to work without democratic structure and organization," said Taylor. "But a party based on non-democratic principles will not be able to sustain itself in the long run."
Taylor told DRCNet he will form a new, libertarian-leaning Liberal Democratic Party. "I'm working on a new party that I hope can bring in our support that is out there. There's a hole in the political landscape that we can fill," he said. "I will be the interim leader and will draft an interim policy statement until we have a true democratic process in place. I believe a number of people will come together for a party that supports property rights, saner drug laws, less government control, and more personal freedom."
Emery scoffs. "Why form another party? Brian is going further along the path to obscurity," he predicted. "He wants to talk about a lot of issues, I want to focus on marijuana legalization." Nor is Emery concerned about defectors. "The only people I care about are people who work and do things for the party," said Emery. "Nobody who did any work has left."
"I want to legalize marijuana," retorted Taylor. "Marc only wants to decriminalize it, but if it is legalized it can be taxed, and I think that can make a tremendous difference to the economy."
The parting of the ways was also precipitated by Emery's plan to challenge Canada's current medical marijuana laws by opening illegal "compassion clubs" to distribute medical marijuana across the province. Emery plans to have 30 clubs operating by the end of 2002, he told DRCNet. "Yes, they will be in violation of the current law, but I expect nothing will happen. We'll sell a lot of weed and the police will leave us alone."
Taylor isn't so sure. "It's a bold move, it's a good way of pushing the cause, but I fear it will bring down the wrath of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," he told DRCNet. "The only clubs operating in the province now are in areas of local police control, not the Mounties. When they push into the hinterlands, I'm afraid the Mounties will react. Another concern is that people voted for the BC Marijuana Party not to break the law, but to wrest change through the formal political process, so this could damage our movement. And compassion clubs are by their very nature compassionate, which means that rules could get bent, which means people may end up risking criminal records for trafficking and conspiracy to traffic," he worried. "The kind of actions Marc is planning could create a backlash for the party. At the same time, there is no democratic way to challenge that move within the party."
Still, said Taylor, he supports opening more compassion clubs. A man who made a name for himself doing civil disobedience on hemp issues, Taylor can't resist. But, he says, "action should be taken by individuals, not the party. Protect the party."
Watching the intramural contretemps with a mixture of interest and concern are British Columbia's existing medical marijuana providers. Hilary Black is founder of the BC Compassion Club (http://www.thecompassionclub.org) in Vancouver, Canada's largest with over 1,400 patients.
"We think there is a huge demand for medical marijuana," Black told DRCNet. "We absolutely support there being a diverse set of clubs available and we are not trying to corner the market. But we do have concerns about what Marc Emery is planning. We have specific ideas about how compassion clubs should be organized, and consensus decision-making is one of our core principles. Members should have a voice, and when one person calls the shots, that isn't going to happen."
Black also worried about Emery's famous commitment to entrepreneurial activity. "Capitalist libertarianism and compassion are not very compatible," she said. "These need to be nonprofit organizations, set up in such a way that resources go back into the clubs and benefit the people who need it."
The BC Compassion Club includes a wellness center where clients can receive acupuncture, herbal cures and a variety of other services for free or by donation, Black said. "To ensure such services, it is important that the club not be a capitalist venture but a community building project," Black argued.
Black can find some solace in a report from the Kamloops News. Vern Falk, the BCMP's candidate in the district this spring, told the newspaper that he was opening a compassion club as part of Emery's project and that it would be nonprofit.
Emery, for his part, somewhat defensively touted the party's accomplishments. "The BCMP was the first party in provincial history to field a full slate in its first election," he pointed out. "We participated in the national debate, and that was a big success. And the bills got paid. By me."
And Taylor maintains a gentlemanly posture toward his former party president. "I'm quite pleased that things went as well as they did," he told DRCNet. "We don't hate each other. We're in the same war, it's just different fronts."