The first declared candidate in the B.C. NDP leadership race hopes being an underdog will serve as an advantage as he pursues a campaign centred on ending the “war on marijuana”.
Dana Larsen said today (January 10) that not holding an elected office could set him apart in a race that is expected to draw experienced NDP MLAs such as Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth.
“I think the people of this province would like to see a fresh alternative, and somebody who’s not just a career politician, but somebody who comes from the grassroots,” Larsen said in an interview at the Georgia Straight offices.
“I think coming in a little bit from the outside gives me a fresh perspective and will allow me to help make the changes in our party that we need to be successful going forward.”
Larsen is a well-known advocate for the legalization of marijuana. The one-time leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party founded the Vancouver Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary and the Vancouver Seed Bank, and helped start Cannabis Culture magazine.
He received an endorsement from Canadian actor and pot culture icon Tommy Chong earlier this month. Jodie Emery, wife of jailed “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery, has said while the couple are not members of the provincial NDP, she and her husband support him as a friend.
“I do believe in many issues,” Larsen said. “But I don’t mind being tied with the cannabis issue, because it’s the one that no one else is talking about, and it’s the key underlining issue that has to be addressed, or everything else will fail.”
In addition to the legalization of marijuana, Larsen wants to see the minimum wage raised to $10 and indexed to inflation, and the referendum system changed to allow for more frequent votes.
“I would lower the threshold for getting something on the ballot, to make it easier for there to be more referendums on issues of the day, so that...we can vote directly on issues,” he said.
He also wants to give NDP members the opportunity to participate in policy debates online.
“I want to start using the Internet and other means of communication to not only have delegated conventions every two years where we discuss policy,” he said. “There should be an ongoing continual policy debate within the party.”
But even if he doesn’t have success in the provincial race, Larsen said it’s important to provide a voice to the cannabis issue, which he sees as being “tied into pretty much all the other major issues of the day”.
For example, he argues, legalizing marijuana could lead to less gang violence, boost what he calls the “biggest economic engine of the province” through regulating and taxing the pot industry, and improve the health-care system by allowing more patients to use medical marijuana.
“There’s nothing that legalizing cannabis would make worse. It would make a lot of things a lot better,” he said.
“We can end this war in British Columbia, and we will, whether it’s now or in the future. I’m going to make sure that we legalize cannabis in British Columbia or die trying, because it’s the most important thing we could do in this province,” he added.
Larsen was the first candidate to declare his intention to enter the B.C. NDP leadership race, which also includes NDP MLAs Harry Lali and Nicholas Simons.
Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan is expected to announce his candidacy tonight.
Party members will vote in a new leader on April 17.
The Georgia Straight's Shadi Elien interviews Dana Larsen.
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.