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Editorial: Prince of Pot carries baggage

Justin Trudeau made a bold move by hitching the federal Liberal wagon to the campaign to legalize marijuana.

Justin Trudeau made a bold move by hitching the federal Liberal wagon to the campaign to legalize marijuana. But does he really want Marc Emery sitting up front with a hand on the reins?

Emery, who calls himself “Prince of Pot,” returned to Canada last week after spending four years in a U.S. prison, and almost as soon as his foot touched Canadian soil, he pledged his support to Trudeau and the Liberals. His wife, Jodie, plans to run for the party in the election that is expected next year.

After a rapturous greeting by hundreds of supporters, the longtime activist seems convinced that he can turn the election campaign into a national referendum on the legalization of pot.

“This is the most historic election for our culture because never before has legalization been on the ballot,” he said.

That depends on how important you think marijuana is to history — and to voters. He thinks it’s important enough to rally as many as three million voters to sway the outcome of the election.

Emery argues that the main political parties differ little in their policies on many of the top issues, but with marijuana, the Liberals can stand apart.

The differences might appear slight when viewed through a haze of pot smoke, but to those with clear heads, the parties have quite different takes on how the government should be run and what it should do. They think voters care about jobs, the economy, health care, the environment.

To believe, as Emery does, that all those concerns can be pushed aside is a leap most people would find hard to make.

Despite Emery’s rhetoric, legalization isn’t on the ballot. There will be no referendum question, and Canadians can vote only for individual candidates. Voters cast their ballots for complex reasons, and it’s rare that post-mortems can point to specific events or issues that turned the tide.

But perhaps he is right, and the possibility of legalization will motivate people across the country to back a party pledged to get rid of laws that have turned thousands of Canadians into criminals without halting the flow of drugs. Is Emery the man Trudeau needs to help make it happen?

Emery is a living argument against the notion that smoking pot drains the user’s ambition. He says he has been arrested 28 times for breaking marijuana laws, including his just-completed sojourn as a guest of the American government.

He landed a five-year prison sentence after he was extradited to the U.S. in 2010 and pleaded guilty to selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers. He got out early for good behaviour.

None of his run-ins with the law have dampened his enthusiasm for his cause, which he maintains is about more than marijuana.

“It’s not just about getting stoned,” said Melissa Zorn, one of the supporters who greeted him in Vancouver. “The message is freedom of choice.”

Emery’s involvement might mobilize supporters of legalization, but it’s also likely to galvanize opponents — with the federal Conservatives leading the charge.

Already, Emery’s promise to battle the Conservatives at the ballot box has stirred the kind of response that will bedevil him and Trudeau in the months ahead.

Steven Blaney, federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said: “While the Liberals would try to make it easier for our children to access marijuana, Canadians can count on our government to put forward policies that keep drugs off our streets and keep our families safe.”

The government is going to paint Trudeau as the ally of drug dealers. Having a convicted drug supplier as one of his most vocal supporters is going to make the Tories’ job much easier.