Marc Emery, the so-called "prince of pot" who has vowed to campaign across the country for Justin Trudeau, could already be getting the brush off from Liberals, who despite their leader’s call for the legalization of marijuana, may not want to be linked to the controversial activist.
“Political parties, don’t as a rule like to be associated with controversial figures, especially those who have served jail time," political strategist Marcel Wieder said.
The 56-year-old Vancouver resident is expected to return to Canada in the next several weeks after having served a five-year sentence in U.S. correctional facilities. He was extradited to Seattle in May 2010, when he pleaded guilty to selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers.
Upon his return, he and his wife Jodie Emery have said they will hold rallies in 30 Canadian cities to try to unseat the Conservatives and stir up support for Trudeau, who has said by legalizing pot, the government can tax and regulate it. Jodie Emery has said that she has been wooed by the Liberals to run as candidate in the Vancouver East riding.
But if the Liberals are keen on bringing the Emerys into their fold, they have, so far, been somewhat cool in their response to the couple's overtures.
In a brief statement to CBC News, Liberal spokesman Dave Sommer said the party “does not endorse the Emerys plans in any way. They are not affiliated with the party and we haven’t had any hand in planning these events at all.”
The Conservatives, meanwhile, who oppose efforts to legalize pot, seem more than eager to exploit any possible connection between the Emerys and the Liberals.
“As legalization of marijuana is one of Justin Trudeau's few policies, of course they're going to recruit 'star' marijuana activists to both campaign and run for them in 2015,” Cory Hann, a spokesman for the Conservative Party said in a statement.
Hann said Canadians face a choice between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trudeau, “whose idea of a 'star Liberal' is the self-proclaimed 'prince of pot.'"
Emery already had claimed a certain pot-related history with Trudeau, having once said in a video that he had smoked pot with Trudeau up to five times. Trudeau denied the story, saying he had met Emery once but didn't smoke during their encounter. Emery later admitted what he said was wrong.
But it's those kinds of comments that could cause trouble for the Liberal leader.
"Because Emery is such a controversial character, who knows what he’s going to say. He’s going to be outside the discipline of the Liberal party," said communications consultant Gerry Nicholls.
And anything Emery says that's controversial, the Tories will be sure to pounce on it, Nichols said.
"They’re going to say, 'This is what Justin Trudeau really stands for. Here’s his friend Marc Emery saying all these things. We have to assume Justin Trudeau must believe that. And, by the way, this guy just got out of jail for dealing drugs. So this is the people Justin Trudeau hangs around this.'”
Emery is certainly a folk hero among some libertarians for his stance on marijuana, and may have gained martyr-like status for his time in prison, Nicholls said.
"So he can whip those people up and he can generate a lot of headlines because he’s very good at getting media,” Nicholls said.
But Nicholls also said the issue could scare off middle-class voters, meaning the more Emery generates headlines, the more it may hurt Trudeau.
"For Trudeau, Emery will be more of a headache than a help," he said.
'A bit nervous'
In a recent phone interview with the National Post, Emery said his rallies of support “might make Mr. Trudeau a bit nervous.”
“I have to make good use of my reputation in the cannabis culture, and no job is more important than defeating prohibitionist regimes.”
But having been away from Canada for five years, Emery may not even have the political sway to shape the debate during the election campaign.
“I think that he and some of his supporters see him as a civil rights supporter,” said Wieder. “The challenge is that he served time in a U.S. prison. Out of sight and out of mind for many Canadians.”
“We have to see what the prison experience has done for him and how he’s able to use that to move his message across.”
Public relations strategist John Crean said he doesn't think Emery has a lot of cachet with mainstream Canada even if mainstream Canada is increasingly open to the idea of legalizing marijuana.
While he may attract media coverage, Emery isn't much of a household name to most Canadians who care little about what he has say about the issue, Crean said.
"I don't think the average Canadian who feels that they’re fairly liberal and open to more liberal marijuana laws see the world the way Marc Emery sees the world," Crean said.
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