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Pot legalization calls hearten sister of Sointula man who died after hunger strike

Nov 26 2011
Before he started his hunger strike, 69-year-old Istvan Marton weighed 79 kilograms.  

Before he started his hunger strike, 69-year-old Istvan Marton weighed 79 kilograms.

Photograph by: Courtesy, Handout

If Istvan (Steve) Marton had managed to hang on for a few more days he would have witnessed some high-profile support for the cause that took his life.

Marton, 69, a Sointula marijuana dealer, died in Port MacNeill Hospital Sunday after a hunger strike to protest Canada's marijuana laws.

A massive heart attack killed Marton, but the hunger strike was a contributing factor, said his doctor, Jane Clelland.

This week, four former Vancouver mayors - Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan and Philip Owen - signed an open letter to B.C. politicians calling for an end to pot prohibition, which they blame for rampant gang violence.

On Thursday, the four were supported by current Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Juliana Bazso, Marton's sister, said it heartened her to see the support for marijuana legalization.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw the mayors. I thought maybe he had died for nothing and then this happened," she said.

"He did not die for nothing. There is an incredible movement," she said.

Before his death, Marton, who did not supply hard drugs and saw himself as an ethical businessman who would not supply marijuana to children, said he hoped other Sointula residents would carry on with a hunger strike after his death.

Harcourt said in an interview that although he believes the laws should change, a hunger strike is not the way to achieve that change.

"I think it is tragically stupid to kill yourself for marijuana," he said.

Most British Columbians favour an end to the current marijuana laws, but Harcourt does not believe that, even with growing pressure, change will come in the near future.

"The federal government is pretty obdurate in staying with the failure of the last 70 years," he said.

Harcourt, former B.C. premier, compares the current marijuana legislation with alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and 1930s and believes, in time, it will be seen as equally dysfunctional.

"Look at the number of people who have been charged, convicted, imprisoned and the huge number of people who have unfortunate criminal records in the biggest failure since the prohibition of booze," Harcourt said.

"It's not that we are encouraging people to use drugs. We are saying regulate it, like we do alcohol. Prohibit it for minors, charge people if they are impaired and control the doses," he said.

Currently, marijuana is the biggest agricultural crop in B.C. and the profit is all going to gangsters, Harcourt said.

The alternative is to take the profit away from criminals, cut down on criminal justice costs and for government to collect $1 billion a year in taxes, he said.

"I think it's just common sense."

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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