Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jun 2013
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Barbara Yaffe
Page: C5


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

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.
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