Cover Photo adapted from mernagh4mayor.ca
Our team recently had the chance to sit down (digitally) with Matt Mernagh, a candidate to succeed Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto. Matt rose to fame in 2011 with the landmark constitutional challenge, R v. Mernagh, where an Ontario Superior Court Justice found the country’s marijuana prohibition “constitutionally invalid.” After bouncing around the courts for the next two years, the laws were eventually upheld, but not before Matt Mernagh was granted an exemption from all of Canada’s marijuana laws.
Today, Matt hosts a webcast called “The Mernahuana Zone,” is the author of “The Marijuana Smoker’s Guidebook,” and has now decided to try focus on changing Toronto from within, focusing on public service and the political arena.
A condensed transcript of the interview is below:
True North Times: Why did you enter this race?
Matt Mernagh: To win! The love of a stiff challenge and to demonstrate my skills as a cannabis advocate are transferable to public office. I really want to represent the people of Toronto by creating a dramatic doable vision for our city.
TNT: Rob Ford recently announced his candidacy and pledged “Ford more years.” What will you be able to bring to the people of Toronto that he won’t?
MM: Fantastic marketing statements, but with plenty of substance behind them. I’ll bring back the weight challenge – with the idea of building on my 105 pound frame by attending all social functions. You won’t see me not attending something because it’s not my political cup of tea.
TNT: How difficult has the transition from author to politician been?
MM: Easy! A politician needs to be able to communicate their ideas and messages, which is something I’ve done for about a decade. I have a great grasp of civic government and avid follower of it.
TNT: You claim you are the only person in North America who can legally grow marijuana. Could you explain the legal process behind achieving this, and the next steps in your legal battles?
MM: My court case finished in November. R v. Mernagh was a constitutional challenge to our country’s cannabis laws. I spent five years with my friend and lawyer Paul Lewin, who ran for mayor in 2003, developing an argument that Canadians lacked access to medical marihuana. When we were successful the court granted me a constitutional exemption. Our case is studied in law schools. Now that it is over, I am free to pursue a political career with the same vigor I did with our court case.
TNT: We’ve noticed that you often discuss marijuana in your blogs and writing. How do you plan to work with the province and the federal government with regards to legalization proposals? How much do you think you could accomplish on the subject as a municipal mayor?
MM: My campaign website launches March 1st. Mernagh4Mayor.ca is being designed by volunteers from Pixel Dreams, a digital marketing agency in Toronto.
My personal blog does contain plenty of cannabis information because I am internationally known as a cannabis advocate and writer. The website earns me a small income and has resulted in my Green Candy Press book Marijuana Smoker’s Guidebook: The Easy Way To Identify and Enjoy Marijuana Strains. Currently busy writing the follow up while campaigning.
I use marijuana medically to treat a rare brain tumor and as mayor of Toronto I would continue to medicate with marihuana. The people of Toronto need to be aware, I am disabled, but I believe the voters are ready to accept my disability and medical marihuana medicating.
I plan on working with the federal and provincial governments on many issues facing our city, such as transit, our fair share of provincial gas taxes, and save on policing costs by lobbying for law reforms. Twenty four cents of every dollar taken in goes towards Toronto Emergency Services. The property taxpayer is paying for prohibition and prostitution laws. We can not afford to police outdated laws. I’d work with the police chief to make Toronto smart on crime.
TNT: What other policies are you putting forward in your electoral platform?
MM: Increase the urban canopy.
Again, more can be done to encourage residents to plant a variety of trees. The city has a habit of planting trees on small plots of public land in front of a homeowners home. Why are we not approaching these homeowners and asking if we can plant a tree on their property, which is more spacious? We are planting the tree anyway. Parks and Recreation have a plan to increase the canopy by 40 per cent, but there’s no political willpower. Our city is sweltering from concrete on hot days and an increased canopy would reduce this problem.
Land Transfer Tax Rebate For First Time Home Buyers
Provide a first time homeowners rebate on the city portion of the land transfer taxes. The first time you purchase a home you would receive a significant rebate via your property taxes. Many first time home buyers struggle with closing costs. Realtor asked me to abolish this tax, but we require the income from it. Giving first time home buyers a break seems the right thing to do.
Freeze Land Transfer Tax
This is a very big budgetary challenge I’ll face, but again it appears to be the right thing to do. Anyone promising to do away with this tax can’t because the city is addicted to the money. Before this could be accomplished, we would have to get the handle on our biggest expense which is Toronto Emergency Services.
Reducing Barriers Faced By Food Truck Operators
There’s too much red tape facing would be food truck owners and this has created a weak food truck industry. People want to purchase more than just ‘smog dogs’ on a Friday night when they leave a bar, concert or sporting event. Mayor David Miller’s council created a crazy socialist pilot program destined for failure. And it did! As mayor I would reduce the food truck red tape and hopefully this would help people start small businesses.
TNT: What do you expect your biggest challenge will be as election day draws closer?
MM: Convincing voters we are serious and re-branding me as more than just a pot person. Releasing a physical policy book is going to really help here.
TNT: The past six months has seen Toronto featured everywhere from the Daily Show to the Kuwaiti press. How would you restore Toronto’s reputation on the international stage?
MM: I take issue with the idea Toronto mayors before Mayor Rob Ford focused an international reputation building. They took our reputation for granted. What other mayor has achieved so much international press? None.
I think it’s excellent our city was featured on the Daily Show and has achieved so much ink. Unfortunately, news media don’t cling to positive stories.
Under Mayor David Miller we were a snooze fest – entertainment alt weekly NOW has had Ford on the cover more times than any entertainer or progressive mayor – and if we are led by his former budget chief David Soknacki Toronto would be a snooze fest again. If you want boring vote Soknacki, but if you want policies with charisma vote Mernagh.
Toronto residents want someone who is internationally known – such as myself – to be their mayor. I’d suggest I have the biggest international reputation, outside of mayor Ford.
A federal legal medical marihuana using mayor would get international headlines.
Residents want someone who will keep fanning the international media fame flames because we want to see our city on late night television.
Toronto has traditionally voted for mayors that are kind of silly, but mayor’s have to balance this satire side with a seriousness too. I believe I accomplish this balance.
TNT: Toronto City Council has become famous for shouting sessions, tackling colleagues, drinking milk, dancing, and tickling one another. What type of environment would you try to create in the Mernagh administration?
MM: Consensus building.
More breaks on the agenda for deep breathing and personal inhaling.
Red card councilors (like soccer players) who behave poorly during council meetings. Eject them from the session if they can’t conduct themselves with class. Create a penalty box and hand out misconduct penalties. Put politicians in stocks at city hall and hang a sign on them in regards to their poor behavior…hopefully the consensus building works before I go with the stocks idea.
TNT: Lastly, if you could impart one piece of wisdom to our readers, what would you tell them?
MM: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead, a fellow MM.
The Mernahuana Zone is webcast live on POT Network every Tuesday from 720-1020 EST or 420-720 PDT from Canada’s boldest and stoniest weedy lounge, Vapor Central.