Group wants voters to tell the province to pass a law asking police to ignore marijuana use.
Organizers of a campaign aimed at decriminalizing pot will be blitzing B.C. this summer, turning up at public gatherings to sign up donors and volunteers.
“British Columbians can expect to hear and see Sensible B.C. on a regular basis,” says Dana Larsen, director of the group set up last year to promote a referendum campaign on marijuana.
Governments had better take note because B.C. is place where people power packs a punch, where a 2011 referendum campaign killed the Harmonized Sales Tax. It’s also the location of Insite, the first supervised injection centre in Canada, which is broadly supported by an open-minded, caring community.
It’s not a long shot to imagine that British Columbians, fed up with the side-effects of an illegal and untaxed pot industry, would vote to support regulation of cannabis cultivation, distribution and use.
A Senate committee back in 2003 estimated B.C.’s pot industry to be worth $6 billion — a sum that would reap considerable tax revenues.
Sensible B.C. aims to gather signatures from 400,000 supporters, representing 10 per cent of registered voters in every electoral district, within a 90-day period between September and November.
That’s what’s needed to trigger a B.C. referendum, which Sensible B.C. proposes in 2014.
The referendum, strictly speaking, wouldn’t be about decriminalizing marijuana use. That would require changing the Criminal Code, which is under federal jurisdiction. The Harper government would undoubtedly nix any such proposal.
Rather, the vote would be on whether to introduce a “Sensible B.C. Policing Act”, whereby the province would ask police to stop detaining or arresting anyone for marijuana possession.
It would also call for a commission to devise a regulatory and taxation framework for a marijuana market in B.C.
The task might be easier now that Washington state is setting up its own such framework after last November’s voter decision to allow marijuana growers and retailers to set up shop. If B.C. follows that lead, money collected in taxes could be directed to drug awareness programs.
At present, the province’s pot industry is a scourge, serving the interests of organized crime and others involved in illegal marijuana growing operations.
Just this month, police uncovered a Hells Angels-linked, 430-plant marijuana-growing operation in buried shipping containers in Langley; a month before, they made a similar bust in Mission.
B.C. is home to some 188 organized crime gangs. Last year, the province experienced 19 fatalities resulting from gangland hits, believed to be drug-related.
Moreover, the pot law has become an ass, with people openly flouting it every April 20 when tens of thousands gather in the square in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery to toke up as nearby police pretend not to notice.
Polls consistently have shown that B.C. residents want reform. An Angus Reid poll in April found 73 per cent of B.C. respondents support further research into the regulation and taxation of pot.
Larsen reported this week that his group has the support of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and B.C. Health Officers Council.
Decriminalization also is backed by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; the Union of B.C. Municipalities; former B.C. attorneys general Geoff Plant, Graeme Bowbrick, Colin Gabelmann and Ujjal Dosanjh; former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan; and Senator Larry Campbell.
Christy Clark’s Liberals have punted the issue, asserting it’s up to Ottawa to address matters related to cannabis use. That’s no surprise; it’s a difficult political issue bound to attract controversy.
Sensible B.C.’s strategy, of course, is to have British Columbians force the province’s hand through a potent referendum result.
Its approach has been methodical, pragmatic and has every chance of proving effective.