NORML Canada estimates that 1.5 million voters across the country are affected by cannabis prohibition, but without a database there’s no way of connecting with them to get to the polls
Despite a fixed election date everyone knew was coming and huge legalization rallies in the lead up to #elxn42, the cannabis community hasn’t done much to organize for the October 19 vote.
On September 26, less than four weeks before potheads head to the polls, NORML Canada (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada) convened a conference to address this massive failure at Vapor Central.
Featured speakers included legalization lawyers Alan Young and John Conroy (who together formed NORML Canada in 1978). The org’s executive director, Craig Jones, and Ontario director, Paul Lewin, were also there.
Its 2015 Election Project is encouraging people to vote Liberal. It has set up a “get out the vote” page on its website (norml.ca) for people to sign up and receive a helpful call from a NORML volunteer on election day reminding them where and how to vote.
This is the first time NORML, which calls itself non-partisan, is advocating for a specific political party. The group says this election is different because the Liberals are promising to legalize marijuana. The NDP has pledged to decriminalize small amounts “but has not yet provided details on legalization options,” the group says.
Young and Conroy have anticipated reform a half-dozen times before, only to have the prohibition ball roll back over them. Though both are gen-uinely enthusiastic about the pros-pects of an end to pot prohibition, they caution that there’s a long way to go.
“We can’t be complacent, because we are far away from legalization,” Young tells the audience.
Pot still seems to be a policing priority. Canadian police report a marijuana possession incident every nine minutes, despite selective enforcement in some parts of the country. Mandatory minimum sentences for a host of marijuana charges, including the all-important cultivation for medpot users, are still on the books.
“Everyone is acting like the law is dead,” says the fired-up Young, “but I’ve still got to deal with the shit of mandatory minimums [and] I still have to deal with a prosecutor trying to destroy a career over 3 grams. If we don’t do it now and Harper gets in, we have to wait another five years to end this repression.”
NORML’s short-term plan is to publicly endorse Liberal candidates, but long term the group envisions becoming a powerful lobbying force capable of actually delivering votes.
“We want electoral might. We want politicians to fear us. We want to show politicians there are votes here,” says Lewin.
Unfortunately, up until the weekend of the conference, the cannabis community has made little effort to lock down those votes.
The social media reach of several attendees is impressive, but it’s not the same as having a riding-by-riding database of people who will cast their ballot based on their position on marijuana.
NORML Canada estimates that 1.5 million voters across the country are affected by cannabis prohibition, but without a database there’s no way of connecting with them to get to the polls.
Sandwiched between Young and Conroy on their speaker list, I point out this glaring failure. Why have we not planned in the last five years to develop a database of voters so we can say to a candidate, “We have 500 votes we can deliver in your riding”?
Recognizing this cannabis community shortcoming, operatives for the Liberal party have been gathering email addresses from people who support legalization. Some 63,428 possible pot votes have been identified.
Outside Vapor Central pre-conference, Young tells me he isn’t easily excited by grandiose political statements because he’s heard them all before. But the Osgoode Hall law professor is pumped about Trudeau’s prohibition promises after meeting him and an adviser.
Young believes Liberals are ready to be proactive about reform, even if it’s for financial reasons. “To balance the budget he has to legalize. That’s why I think he’s sincere about it.”
Trudeau hasn’t committed to a toker tax just yet. Nor does it form part of any of the Liberals’ budget cal-culations.
“I think Trudeau is worried that if he starts to talk about it [in depth], the media are going to trivialize the issue,” Young explains. “If nothing else in the Liberal platform offends or repulses you, vote Liberal. [The promise to legalize] appears to be a sincere offer, and we can give them an opportunity to have some integrity.”
Young’s enthusiasm does come with a hint of caution. “I’ve been duped before,” he says.
Conroy says ending marijuana prohibition shouldn’t be as difficult as politicians and advocates make it out to be. The legalization of marijuana doesn’t need to be debated in the House of Commons, he says. It can be done via an executive order in caucus.
Essentially, Conroy says Team Trudeau could take an eraser and remove the word “marihuana” from the Controlled Drugs And Substances Act and download regulatory responsibilities. Municipalities have already begun selectively to ignore prohibition, and given an opportunity, the provinces could, too.
“We want the federal government to vacate the playing field,” Conroy says.
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