Pubdate: Mon, 14 May 2001
Source: Nanaimo News Bulletin (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001, BC Newspaper Group
Author: Paul Willcocks


VICTORIA - Despite the easy jokes about Cheech and Chong, the Marijuana 
Party is carving out a real niche in B.C.'s crowded political playing field.

The party isn't going to elect any candidates. But - like the Reform Party 
- - the Marijuana Party is finding support from the disaffected and 
disgruntled, the people who simply want less government in their lives.

And that's a large group.

Party leader Brian Taylor is a likable man, the right kind of leader for 
the new party. He's a former mayor of Grand Forks, a 55-year-old who looks 
more like a cowboy than a Rastafarian and talks more about the economic 
aspects of the party platform than the miraculous benefits of all things 
cannabis. He ran for the NDP in 1983, against Bill Bennett. He lost, but he 
got 12,000 votes.

On the day I caught up with him, he'd had a root canal in the morning and 
was sitting down to write a eulogy for his father, who had died of heart 
failure while Taylor was campaigning in northern B.C.

But Taylor set the work aside to talk about the party's election campaign, 
surprising both for its success and the kind of supporters the party is 
attracting. Mixed in with the expected college students and aging hippies 
are businesspeople and libertarians attracted by the Marijuana Party's 
determination to kick government out of peoples' lives.

The party has attracted conservatives - including some senior Canadian 
Alliance supporters - angry at everything from the health care 
establishment to police anti-drug programs to bicycle helmet laws. 
"Government is interfering in our lives everywhere," Taylor says. "What are 
we doing telling some little old men riding bicycles that they have to wear 
funny looking hats?"

The most recent polls show the Marijuana Party running at three and four 
percent support; in most of the province it's ahead of the Unity Party. 
That will translate into at least 60,000 British Columbians who opt for a 
protest vote on May 16. Only the Marijuana Party, Liberals and NDP have 
candidates in all 79 ridings.

Eli Sopow's not surprised, and says the party's success is a preview of 
days of protest that lie ahead. Sopow is a consultant, a former reporter 
who worked in the last days of the Socred government. He says the Liberals 
will face a difficult time governing a population that's growing 
increasingly distrustful and resentful of institutional authority. He's 
prepared a report called Ticking, Clicking and Ready to Explode: 
Middle-Aged Militants in British Columbia, that is based partly on a 
provincial survey done in March.

Sopow found the middle-aged masses have lost faith in big government, big 
corporations and even big environmental groups.

And he found the mistrust isn't confined to the young or those on the 
fringe. There was almost as much willingness for those between 35 and 55 to 
protest as there was among students. And almost across the board people 
reported that they were both more disgruntled and more militant now than 
they were a decade ago.

Those are the people the party is reaching. Party president Marc Emery is a 
marijuana entrepreneur. He's running for the party, but more importantly 
he's putting up most of the $250,000 in funding.

The Marijuana Party isn't seeking the left-wing vote, he says. "Our theme 
is choices, options, tolerance," he said. "We're promoting heavily in rural 
areas our opposition to Ottawa's gun registration scheme."

The Marijuana Party won't elect any members. But it may speak for people 
who expect the government to do less, explain better and allow more choice. 
And that's a movement the mainstream parties need to embrace, not ignore.
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