The Relevance Of Pot Politics


420 Staff
On the Front Lines of the First-Ever Saskatchewan Marijuana Party Convention

Huddled in the dimly-lit basement of a bar in downtown Saskatoon, a small group of marijuana activists joke about their political future.

"People don't take us very seriously," one of them laughs as he tucks his dreadlocks behind his ear. "But we take ourselves pretty seriously, and that's all that matters."

If not for the faint stench of smoke clinging to many of the members' clothing, it would be hard to separate this congregation from any other small-scale political gathering.

There is an acrid air of seriousness in the room. Constituency maps scribbled with red marker are pinned on the walls.

The large table at the back is littered with leaflets, petitions, and flyers.

At the front of the room, two young members are explaining the policy documents projected on to a large television screen -- if only for a moment, the fervent idealism and adolescence of the pot movement seems juxtaposed against a real sense of political urgency. The two younger members at the front are wearing suits; others simply sport the party logo on their t-shirts. Many of them have been here since the early morning, debating policy, amending their constitution, and, believe it or not, strategizing about how their party can win seats in the next election.

"We are going to run as many candidates as we can," says Nathan Holowaty, leader of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party. "If there are candidates who want to run in every riding, we will run candidates in every riding."

According to Statistics Canada, in 2004, 4.5 million Canadians ( 14 per cent of the population ) admitted to smoking marijuana during the year. More than double that number, about 30 per cent of the Canadian population, say they have smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime. However, despite the drug's obvious popularity and widespread use, legalization and decriminalization issues have yet to become major political concerns for most Canadians.

One of the obvious reasons for this lack of support is purely demographic: in the 2004 study, 70 per cent of young people aged 18-24 said they used marijuana. This is the same age group routinely accused of political apathy and dismal voting records.

But there is plenty of evidence to show that Canadians of all age groups support the idea of a marijuana law reform.

Why is it, then, that Canada has failed to mobilize behind the pot movement?

Could it be that pot politics have become irrelevant?

"I guess it's a good idea to have someone like the Marijuana Party push for legalization in the long run," says 23-year-old J.H., as he flicks the ash from a joint he is casually smoking outside of his suburban home, "but I think you have to go with the multi-issue party there are other important issues out there other than marijuana."

J.H. is a self-professed marijuana user who has been smoking on a regular basis since high school. Like many regular users, he admits having pot legalized would ease some of his concerns about smoking the drug, but in the end, he says he is more concerned politically about larger, more pressing issues. "You have to think about the better good. You cant just cut out everything else so you can smoke pot more often."

At the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party's first official convention, the topic of how best to push the marijuana agenda was front and centre.

The party has been around since 2004, but was only officially ratified in June of last year. For most members, the notion of actually winning seats in the Legislature is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Even their relatively successful political cousins to the west, the BC Marijuana Party, whose roots grow in one of North America's most notorious centres of pot culture, were unable to make a significant impact, having only captured 0.65 per cent of the popular vote. For the SMP, then, the focus is not so much winning seats, but rather raising awareness about the issue.

"I think we are going to make a larger impact than any marijuana party has ever done in Canada," boasts Holowaty. "There are fewer parties here than there are in BC, and therefore we think we have a stronger voice."

It seems the issue of how exactly to go about making a larger impact is a matter of some debate. Ken Sailor, a long-time marijuana activist and influential party member, is right in the middle of the dispute. "You try to attack the obvious things," he says. "You try to win the small battles."

While Sailor maintains that the party should remain a one issue party, members like Ethan Erkiletian, the current president of SMP, are looking to expand the party beyond the boarders of pot politics. At the convention, Erkiletian put forward various motions pertaining to areas of social justice not directly related to marijuana or drug law reform.

Most of them were shot down after Sailor made his case for sticking to the one-issue party platform.

"If you don't have a one-issue party like this, the message is not going to get heard," Sailor explains. "We are not the Green Party or the NDP. We are the Marijuana Party."

The SMP claims they have enough interest to run at least 15 candidates in the next provincial election. Although they expect to have virtually no impact as far as actual votes count, the SMP claims that their presence has already been felt.

The NDP passed a resolution at their last provincial convention saying they want to see a legalized marijuana regime in Saskatchewan. Of course, it is obvious the NDP government still has its reservations about reforming marijuana laws, and it is not likely that they would implement such a regime anytime soon. Nonetheless, the SMP says it is a force to be reckoned with.

"The other parties aren't being as vocal as they should be," Holowaty says. "We are going to hold their feet to the fire."

Source: Sheaf, The (CN SN Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Sheaf Publishing Society, Inc.,
Website: The Sheaf – The University of Saskatchewan Newspaper Since 1912 – The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.
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