Pubdate: Sat, 24 Dec 2011
Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Prince George Citizen
Author: Frank Peebles, Citizen Staff


Four of Vancouver's former mayors joined voices recently to call for 
an end to the prohibition of marijuana.

Their call was echoed this week by the province's medical health 
officers in their own statement of support.

The Citizen asked northern civic leaders if they also supported this 
idea. After all, according to their worships Sam Sullivan, Michael 
Harcourt, Larry Campbell, and Philip Owen, the reason to kill the 
criminality of cannabis is to take the money out of the massive black 
marketeering of the stuff by wealthy and ruthless B.C. gangs.

"I think they are right. If you regulate it, it ends the underground 
economy and sets up standards and safeguards for the public's 
benefit," said Mackenzie mayor Stephanie Killam, but her support came 
with conditions.

"It should probably go to UBCM [Union of B.C. Municipalities] so 
everybody has the opportunity to speak about it, discuss it," she said.

"These are not new thoughts, but it is not on my or council's radar, 
we have not discussed it as a group, and I think that goes for most 
communities across the north. It strikes at everybody, but we need to 
fully examine the pros and the cons."

Prince George mayor Shari Green was out of town and unable to be 
contacted before deadline, nor could Regional District of Fraser-Fort 
George chair Art Kaehn be reached.

The region's youngest mayor, Burns Lake's Luke Strimbold, 21, said 
marijuana was clearly a common social indulgence in the public, but he 
was not inclined to use that as a basis for decision making.

"Just because it is widely used doesn't make that the reason to 
legalize it. If people keep speeding, your only response shouldn't be 
to raise the speed limit," he said.

"People can sometimes base opinions on other opinions, without getting 
the facts. On a topic like this, yes, let's discuss it, and get the 
facts as best we can."

The elected chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council agreed with the 
need for official, dedicated study of the suggestion. David Luggi said 
the idea of ending cannabis prohibition had a lot of merits. He was 
impressed that four diverse officials like the four mayors would speak 
as one on a topic this impactful, and he was aware that the advocacy 
group Stop The Violence just commissioned a set of province-wide polls 
that strongly indicated mainstream public support for a new way of 
addressing marijuana in common culture. But he was not inclined to 
take their word for it or rush to their conclusions.

"Maybe a task group should be struck to get a feel for what the 
public's will truly is, across the province, and get the input of 
people who might be affected by this," Luggi said.

"Let the public look at all the potential costs and all the potential 
benefits. If the polls are correct, public consultation would put real 
reinforcements to it."

Strimbold added that if the general province didn't strike a dedicated 
fact-finding task force to it, maybe the north should on its own. The 
stakes - victimization and taxpayer costs - were high enough to 
warrant the investment in research, he said.

Luggi said that if the provincial and federal governments didn't have 
the political will to officially study the social/fiscal cost benefits 
of a new marijuana relationship, perhaps the public should force the 
issue with a referendum.

All three of the elected officials stressed that what must be studied 
most was not the truth of if marijuana money caused organized crime to 
run violently amuck in B.C. - that was self evident - but if there 
were some other ways to curb that than simply legalizing pot in some 
degree. What other factors lead people into gang life and 
victimization? What alternatives would gangs turn to if cannabis was 
no longer their cash cow? What social problems would be exacerbated by 
relaxing the legalities of marijuana? What is the cost of staying the 
same versus the cost of changing?

All agreed that the status quo was not working.

Where there's smoke

A vote in Prince George was already held this year on the issue of 
taking marijuana out of organized crime's coffers. The Prince George 
Chamber of Commerce did a study of the current marijuana law's effects 
on business (especially pertaining to money laundering), and concluded 
that a regulation-based approach was superior to the prohibition-based 
approach now in play. The report was forwarded to the B.C. Chamber of 
Commerce for consideration as a provincial lobbying issue. A majority 
of provincial chamber members voted their agreement with the report's 
conclusions - 189 to 159 - but it failed to go onto the provincial 
discussion table any further because the threshold for that was a 67 
per cent majority.

"I commend Prince George for having the courage to bring this 
forward," said B.C. Chamber of Commerce vice president of policy 
development Jon Garson at the time. "The proposal was a debate worth having."

Another delegate at the provincial table said a main reason for voting 
against it was simply because the federal government was seen as 
predisposed to opposing prohibition reform so there was no point 
investing chamber time in the argument.

Canada's Conservative side wasn't always so viewed. In 2002, when the 
governing Liberal Party of Canada was working on a legal framework 
classifying personal use-sized amounts of pot more as a non-criminal 
infraction with consequences akin to traffic violations, Prince 
George-Peace River MP Jay Hill told The Citizen decriminalization made 
sense, and reflected the prevailing attitudes of society.

"I think there's a general acceptance among many that (marijuana) is 
not much worse than alcohol," he said. "To continue to expend limited 
police resources worrying about growing or using for personal use is a 
waste," said Hill, who recently retired from the Conservative 
government's caucus for a life outside of party politics.

He commissioned his own poll within his riding that year, learning 
that 50 of eligible voters in our area to the north supported 
decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, 39 per cent were 
opposed and 11 per cent didn't know or did not give an answer.

Hill later clarified that he did not support any such measures without 
practices in place to protect children from the effects of drugs.

The B.C. Progress Board stated in 2006 that the prohibitionist 
approach was worth reexamining due to its positive effect for organized crime.

One provincial court judge, the late George O. Stewart of Prince 
George, went public as early as 2005 in The Citizen that marijuana did 
no more social harm than alcohol and probably a lot less. He believed 
then that cannabis should be built into a legal category with alcohol 
and tobacco, with so-called "hard drugs" like cocaine and heroin 
clearly in a class of their own apart from the former group.

"I have been in courtrooms where I heard thousands and thousands of 
times, 'I would never have done it, but I was drinking at the time, I 
lost control,'" he told The Citizen. "Not once have I ever heard, 'I 
would never have done that, but I was smoking some grass at the time.' 
So let's not create hysteria, burn them at the stake along with their 
marijuana, and fly in the face of historical data."
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