Pubdate: Thu, 18 Mar 2010
Source: Xaverian Weekly, The (CN NS Edu)
Page: 14
Copyright: 2010 CWhite, The Xaverian Weekly
Authors: Jimmy Thomson and Devanne O'Brien
Bookmark:  (Dana Larsen)


As one of the country's foremost marijuana legalization activists, 
Dana Larsen knows the score when it comes to pot laws in Canada.

He's been involved in the marijuana debate in various capacities: as 
a politician, an entrepreneur, and as editor of the alternative 
magazine, Cannabis Culture, alongside Canada's 'prince of pot,' Marc 
Emery. His most recent project has been the publication of a parody 
called Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone, a sequel to which will 
be released in the near future.

Larsen's formal entry into Canadian politics was as a co-founder of 
both the BC Marijuana Party and the federal Marijuana Party. Although 
he jumped to the NDP in 2003, Larsen says he still views the 
Marijuana Party as having an important educative objective, though 
not a realistic electoral one.

"Under our first-past-the-post system, there's not a hope in hell the 
Marijuana Party is ever going to elect anybody," he comments. 
"Really, the goal of the Marijuana Party [is] to educate politicians, 
to educate other people. You get a great platform in an election."

In 2008, he was the NDP candidate for a BC riding during the federal 
election, but resigned his candidacy following the release of a 
controversial video of him allegedly under the influence of marijuana and LSD.

Last summer, Larsen was banned from the federal NDP convention in 
Halifax after the party's spokesperson accused him of vote-buying for 
a pro-legalization resolution he submitted to the convention.

He spent the duration of the event standing on the street in Halifax 
wearing a sign that read: "I was banned from the NDP convention. Ask me why."

Though he may battle with some members of the party leadership, 
Larsen remains an active member of the NDP, working inside to 
encourage drug policy reform.

"I've never had a single NDP member say anything bad to me or 
criticize me or give me any kind of negativity at all, but within the 
upper echelons in the party, I think they're worried about me," he 
claims. "They see me as a loose cannon."

Larsen suspects the reason legalization doesn't have much political 
traction is due at least in part because of the construction of the 
issue in the media.

"There's always some sort of pun, or making fun of the issue [in the 
media]," he says. "But really, it's something that affects our lives 
very directly."

"Many peoples' lives are ruined by marijuana prohibition," he 
continues. "And many lives are saved by the benefits of marijuana."

Still, activists face the challenge of asserting their own 
credibility in a political climate hostile towards loosening drug laws.

"It's always a concern of anyone who promotes drug policy reform - 
you get tagged as a stoner. I am," he laughs. "I smoke marijuana everyday."

"I think I'm the first person who has run for a mainstream party who 
admitted he was a chronic marijuana user. There are plenty of people 
who say, 'I used to smoke pot'," he notes. "I would hope that one 
day, people who smoke pot are involved in politics just like those 
who drink alcohol - because our political system is awash with 
alcohol drinkers."

Cannabis is a sticky issue. Fluctuating severity of enforcement, 
constant political babble, and increasing social acceptability have 
many Canadians confused as to what can happen when they light up.


"The current laws in Canada are prohibition," explains Larsen, who is 
one of Canada's most active drug policy reform advocates. "The only 
real change recently has been that medical marijuana has opened up 
quite a bit. About 2,000 Canadians now have permission to grow and 
possess marijuana for medicinal uses."

The use of marijuana for recreational use, however, is a different story.

According to the RCMP, currently possession under 30 grams of 
marijuana in most circumstances is known as a "summary conviction 
offense," meaning, no criminal record, fingerprints, or jail time; 
all of which is subject to the discretion of a judge.

More severe penalties can be prescribed for amounts over 30 grams, or 
if possession is enhanced by the presence of significant amounts of 
cash, individually-packaged "dime bags," scales, or lists of money 
owed: this charge is known as possession for the purpose of 
trafficking and carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

No mandatory minimum sentences currently exist in Canada for drug offenses.

However, Harper's Conservative government has been trying to change that.

The federal government introduced the controversial Bill C-15 during 
the 40th session of the Canadian Parliament. It marked the second 
major attempt by the Tories to curb 'serious drug crimes' through 
legislation designed to dish out stiffer penalties.

Legalization activists decried the bill, calling the mandatory 
minimums for marijuana-related offences "draconian."

In the original bill, cultivation of between five and 201 pot plants 
for the purpose of trafficking would have earned a mandatory minimum 
of six months in prison. By the time prorogation killed the bill in 
the senate, amendments from the upper house ensured that those who 
cultivate up to 200 plants on their own property for the purpose of 
trafficking were safe from a mandatory minimum, so long as there were 
no "aggravating factors" present.

These factors include the presence of weapons, unsafe or 
booby-trapped cultivation locations, proximity to a public area to 
which cultivation could pose a danger, or the use of a third party's property.

With regards to the latter factor, a representative from the Beyond 
Prohibition Foundation was quoted by Vancouver's Straight last 
December as saying that even with the senate amendments, those caught 
cultivating even a single marijuana plant who did not do so on their 
own property - ie, renters - would be subject to mandatory minimum of 
nine months in prison.

Additionally, the original bill stipulated increased penalties for 
trafficking in marijuana, with a mandatory minimum sentence of one 
year if the offense is committed "for the benefit of organized 
crime." This clause has some pot activists concerned, because in 
Canada, the definition of organized crime is extremely vague, 
applicable to a group as small as three people.

Although it died with prorogation, the bill is expected to be 
reintroduced in its original form in the senate during this 
parliamentary session.

Oddly, while in traditionally cannabis-lenient Canada penalties may 
become more severe, new hope for legalization is coming from south of 
the border, where the War on Drugs is the most intense.

Role Reversal

"There's been a loosening under Obama, which [has] opened things up a 
lot," explains Larsen. "Although they haven't changed any laws 
federally, they've changed some of their rhetoric, and they've backed 
off from the confrontational stance they used to have."

In California, a battle has been waged for years between state 
authorities that legalized medical marijuana dispensaries and the 
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which routinely raided and shut down 
these legal operations. Now it appears the raids will cease, and 
medical marijuana is gaining legitimacy in the state.

This new is exciting for medical marijuana advocates, confirms Larsen.

"Under previous administrations under Bill Clinton or George 
Bush....they would have done everything they could to have shut this 
down. Obama's done nothing. He hasn't supported it or said anything 
positive about it, or mentioned it at all, but he's done nothing to 
stop it. That's as much as we can probably hope for with the new 

This coming November, citizens of California will likely vote on 
whether or not to legalize the cultivation and possession of 
marijuana, which would be a first for modern North American drug policy.

"I'm really hoping it gets on [the ballot]," says Jake Kiley, 
guitarist for California punk rockers Strung Out. "It will definitely pass."

This could set the precedent for what Corporal Ron Bryce of the RCMP 
Street Crimes unit describes as an essential condition for the 
successful legalization of marijuana in Canada.

"If it were legalized, I think the key would be that it were 
legalized in the States as well," Bryce says. "If it was legalized in 
Canada, and still illegal in the States, you're still going to have 
people producing it here, and exporting it to the United States and 
selling it there."

With files from Canadian Government Cannabis Culture Straight
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom