Party's over? Legalization could spell the end of the Marijuana Party

Making pot legal could kill the political party that campaigned on the issue for nearly two decades in Canada. But the Marijuana Party is not claiming victory after last week’s historic policy shift.

Leader Blair Longley says political movement has lost influence, fundraising capacity and support

Blair Longley is leader of the Marijuana Party of Canada. (Submitted by Blair Longley)

The arrival of a legal recreational marijuana market in Canada could end up killing the political party that has campaigned on the issue for nearly two decades.

But the Marijuana Party is not claiming victory after last week's historic drug policy shift.

Blair Longley, who has led the party since 2004, said changes to campaign financing have dramatically undermined the party's ability to field candidates and run campaigns since he took the helm.

Now that the party's only policy plank has come to pass (though not in the way Longley wanted), the odds against the party's survival look more daunting than ever.

"It gets harder every year, and it's probably going to be harder than ever now for the party to exist," Longley said. "We have no influence. The influence now comes from these big corporations that collectively are worth tens of billions of dollars."

Longley said the regulatory regime that comes with legalization will wind up criminalizing more people, with more penalties and offences — the reverse of his party's objective, which was simply to end the criminal ban on recreational marijuana use.

Under the Liberal government's new law, cannabis is strictly regulated. It's now a Criminal Code offence to sell or provide it to youth, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.

The Marijuana Party was formed in 2000 by Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who managed to round up 73 candidates to run in that year's federal election.

Five years later, he quit to join the Liberals.

"I believe that if any party will ever legalize marijuana in Canada, it is the Liberals," St-Maurice said at the time.

250 signatures needed

Longley has carried the torch ever since — and has watched as the party's support dwindled away. In the 2015 election, the party ran just eight candidates and won only 1,557 votes.

He said he doesn't know if he can even gather the 250 member signatures required to register as a party with Elections Canada, adding he might try "for the hell of it."

Longley said that if he does manage to keep the party alive, he'll fight against the strict regulatory regime introduced by the Trudeau government and push to have cannabis treated more like a harmless substance under the law.

Cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct. 17. (CBC)

"Cannabis is less dangerous than coffee. You can die from an overdose of caffeine. You cannot die from an overdose of THC," he said.

Longley rejects what he called the Liberal "talking points" — that legalization will protect young people and suppress organized crime — arguing the new model will provide legal access to some but criminalize many more.

Licensed producers

He also criticized the fact that the legal cannabis being offered for sale is coming from massive indoor grow operations, instead of being organically farmed in the plant's natural environment.

"The fact that it's more accessible because it's a little bit more legalized is good, but it's taking place inside of an overall system where a handful of big corporations are going to totally dominate the business," he said. "And the only way their business model is going to work is if the government criminalizes their competition."

Licensed producers face a rigorous screening and inspection process to ensure their product is safe and free of mould, mildew or any disease.

The Marijuana Party is one of 14 registered political parties in Canada.

Its provincial counterpart in Quebec, Bloc Pot, fielded several candidates in the recent election.