NEWEST LIBERAL SET TO 'SMOKE OUT' SUPPORT FOR LEGALIZING MARIJUANA
Former Marijuana Party Leader Takes His Mission Mainstream
Political defections to the Liberal party aren't unusual.
Disgruntled Conservatives, a member of the Bloc Quebecois, even the former New Democratic premier of British Columbia have joined the governing party in the last year alone.
But the announcement today to confirm the issuance of Liberal membership No. 766001 is bound to turn heads.
The card belongs to Marc-Boris St-Maurice, the founder and former leader of the Marijuana Party.
And as he heads to this week's national party convention, the country's newest Grit won't be satisfied to sit quietly on the sidelines.
Mr. St-Maurice said yesterday he wants to help the Liberals become the party that completely legalizes marijuana and he believes there is already substantial support for such legislation among party members.
"There is a lot of support for this issue in the Liberal party," Mr.
St-Maurice said from his Montreal home. "They may be silent supporters, but I know for a fact that it's very strong support and I will try and -- without trying to make any puns -- smoke them out, identify them and work to try and come together and make (new legislation) work."
In the last eight years, Mr. St-Maurice, 36, has helped organize parties dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. He helped create the Bloc Pot and assembled a slate of 24 candidates to run in the 1998 Quebec provincial election. The new party drew only a fraction of one per cent of the popular vote.
In 2000, Mr. St-Maurice founded the national Marijuana Party. He ran against former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day in a B.C. byelection, then against Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe in that fall's federal election, taking four per cent of the vote in the Bloc leader's Montreal riding, where Mr. St-Maurice also lives.
Two years later, Mr. St-Maurice, who has been arrested seven times for possessing small amounts of marijuana, appeared before committees of the House of Commons and the Senate, calling for the drug's legalization.
Then in last year's June election, he took on Prime Minister Paul Martin in Mr. Martin's Montreal-area riding of LaSalle-Emard.
Mr. Martin received 23,258 votes. Mr. St-Maurice received 324 and after reflecting, he said, as any leader does in the wake of an electoral setback, he decided to alter his strategy.
"I came to the conclusion that it would be a good move to take this fight to the next level," Mr. St-Maurice said, "and that to get marijuana legalized, it would have to be done by one of the mainstream parties. Right now, the Liberals certainly are the only ones that seem to have some form of record in regards to marijuana."
The government's bill C-17 that would decriminalize possession and production of small amounts of marijuana, making such offences punishable with fines, is currently before the Commons' justice committee.
But Mr. St-Maurice doesn't think the legislation goes far enough.
"People have the wrong notion that decriminalizing is actually some form of legalization," he said. "I think we should look at less punitive approaches for simple possession."