Pubdate: Sat, 24 Dec 2011 Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC) Copyright: 2011 Prince George Citizen Contact: http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/350 Author: Frank Peebles, Citizen Staff NORTHERN POLITICIANS SOUNDED OUT ON POT 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.