Pubdate: 30 Oct 1997 Source: Carillon (CN SN Edu) Website: http://ursu.uregina.ca/~carillon/ Address: Rm. 227 Riddell Centre, University Of Regina, Regina, Sk. Can. S4S 0A2 Contact: 2002, The Carillon Fax: (306)-586-7422 Authors: Michael Dobie and Sharon AschaiekM MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION MOVEMENT PICKS UP STEAM MONTREAL (CUP) -- The movement pushing for the legalization of marijuana is gaining strength as a nascent pro-pot political party gets ready to run candidates in the upcoming Quebec election while Torontonians are being invited on the Can-Abyss train. The Bloc Pot is being organized by 28-year-old Montreal musician Marc St. Maurice, a six-year veteran of marijuana activism. He has collected the nearly 1,000 signatures needed to get official party status and is looking for 10 people to run for office. St. Maurice says lots of people have stepped forward, adding that it only remains to work out who will run in what riding. One of those who has thrown his hat into the ring is Larry Duprey, who owns a pot paraphernalia store in Montreal. By putting pot on the political agenda, Duprey says activists are looking for a gradual change in official attitudes towards marijuana. "We've got to look at the edges of this law. We have to dance around it till we get to the centre," he said. Charlie McKenzie, former chief janitor of the Parti Rhinoceros who now does human rights research for a United Nations agency, is a consultant for the Bloc Pot. "Bloc Pot will engage at the provincial level because enforcement is a provincial jurisdiction. Bloc Pot can have an effect because of the polarization of politics in Quebec," he said. St. Maurice says that electoral races are so close in Quebec that any percentage lost is a threat to the main parties. This will ensure, he adds, that marijuana will be an issue in the next provincial election. "I'm confident we'll get a man in somewhere," St. Maurice said. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the number of people arrested for marijuana-related offences has steadily risen over the past several years. The number increased to 29,562 in 1996 from 27,662 in 1994, reports Now, an alternative Toronto weekly. And those being caught by the long arm of the law for marijuana offences are facing stiffer penalties because of tougher anti-drug legislation which the federal government brought into effect earlier this year. There are also efforts in Ontario to raise awareness about the need to take a different legal approach to marijuana. Every Thursday night this fall at the Comfort Zone, a Toronto club, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been spreading the word about the legalization of marijuana. "The Can-Abyss train is going to go through that abyss, hopefully pick everybody up, and arrive at destination legalization, whereby we remove the criminal records from these people," Umberto Iorfida, president of the organization, said. He adds that 1.2 million Canadians have a police record for possession of marijuana. Iorfida says drugs are a health issue and the government1s criminal approach has backfired. "We're treating [marijuana] as a criminal substance [when] we should be treating it as a drug," he said. "We should be sending people who mess up on marijuana or any drug, for that matter, to doctors." He adds that he foresees the legalization of marijuana by the year 2000 due to government cutbacks. "It will come because the country can no longer afford the so-called 'war on drugs,'" Iorfida said. The Can-Abyss campaign is also raising awareness about the hemp plant, which is essentially the marijuana plant grown without the active ingredient which gets users high. There are, according to Iorfida, over 30,000 commercial uses for this plant, and most are more environmentally friendly than materials and processes already in use.