Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jul 2013
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 The Georgia Straight
Author: Charlie Smith
Cited: Sensible BC:


AS HE MUNCHES on a beef sandwich in a cluttered eighth-floor office
near Victory Square, Dana Larsen hardly seems the type to have a
monumental impact on policing. But don't let his casual attire deceive
you. As the financial agent of the Sensible B.C. campaign to stop
police from busting people for marijuana possession, Larsen is
spearheading a revolution on behalf of pot smokers. And he's hoping
that the initiative he's sponsoring to amend the Police Act will have
as much success as a similar campaign to eliminate the harmonized sales tax.

"It's very challenging," Larsen tells the Georgia Straight. "The odds
have been stacked against us from the beginning, but I will say the
odds are much better now than when we started."

The campaign received a boost earlier this year when Terrace cannabis
activist Bob Erb promised to match donations up to $500,000 to
Sensible B.C. Erb made the pledge after winning a $25-million lottery
jackpot a day after Larsen spoke against marijuana prohibition in
Terrace. "I had just left his town and then I heard on the radio that
he'd won the lottery," Larsen says.

To start the process, Larsen needed to have a draft bill accepted by
the chief electoral officer. With the help of legal expert Kirk
Tousaw, Larsen wrote the Sensible Policing Act. It declares that no
member of a provincial or municipal police force "may utilize and/or
expend any police resources, including member time, on investigations,
searches, seizures, citations, arrests and/or detentions related
solely" to possession of marijuana. The draft legislation also
requires the minister responsible for policing to write to the prime
minister, calling upon the federal government to amend the law within
three months of its receiving royal assent so that B.C. "can tax and
regulate cannabis using lessons learned from the regulation of alcohol
and tobacco".

Beginning in September, Larsen has 90 days to collect signatures of 10
percent of registered voters in each of the province's 85
constituencies. That will require thousands of volunteer canvassers to
gather names in their areas.

"We need about 400,000-odd signatures-that would be the minimum,"
Larsen says. "We're hoping for a half a million to put it over the
top. Our goal is to motivate our base."

If that target is achieved, the chief electoral officer has 42 days to
verify that the signatures are valid. Once this occurs, the bill goes
to a legislative committee. Members can either table a report
recommending the bill be introduced into the legislature, where it can
die on the order paper, or refer the bill to the chief electoral
officer for in initiative vote, which would take place on September
27, 2014. The initiative vote requires approval from more than 50
percent of registered voters in total, as well as 50 percent of
registered voters in two-thirds of B.C.'s electoral districts. The
initiative vote is not binding on the government, but it would force
the draft bill to be introduced into the house for debate.

One of the organizers of the HST initiative, Bill Tieleman, tells the
Straight that Larsen faces a daunting challenge. "If everything worked
in the right way, it's still not anywhere near guaranteed that you'll
get a referendum," Tieleman says.

Tieleman adds that there were 6,500 canvassers gathering signatures
opposed to the HST. Even with an army of this size, the campaign
nearly failed when it came close to missing the mark in one of the
Abbotsford constituencies. "One out of 85 ridings screws up and you're
done," he says.

So far, Larsen says he hasn't received much of a public push from
provincial politicians apart from the NDP MLA for Saanich South, Lana
Popham, posting a positive comment on the Sensible B.C. website.
However, Larsen claims that the campaign has already identified tens
of thousands of supporters, who will be contacted next month to sign
petitions at designated locations.

"In an election campaign, you get guaranteed access to apartment
buildings, but not for this," he says.

Tieleman recommends that Sensible B.C. push for an initiative vote to
prevent its draft legislation from being buried by the B.C. Liberal
government. It's a message that Larsen appears to have taken to heart.

"We're used to politicians wimping out on this, not addressing it,
avoiding it, denying it, even though there is overwhelming public
support," the campaigner says. "This, to me, is exactly what our
referendum system was designed for: to deal with the issues where the
politicians are way out of whack with the will of the people. It's a
way of getting them back on course again."

In advance of the campaign, Sensible B.C. funded a research paper by
SFU criminologist Neil Boyd that shows a doubling in annual
marijuana-possession charges in B.C. between 2005 and 2011. Boyd
estimated that court and policing costs of marijuana-possession
enforcement reach $10 million per year in B.C.

"This cost is difficult to justify, as a mounting toll of criminal
convictions continues to impose significant employment limitations and
travel restrictions upon convicted users," Boyd wrote. "Further, it is
well known that cannabis use represents a relatively trivial risk to
public health, in contrast to other more widely used mind-active legal

Cannabis-legalization activist Jodie Emery says she hopes that
citizens don't lose sight of the financial costs.

"They're paying for pot-prohibition enforcement through policing and
the courts," she declares in her West Hastings Street office, which
doubles as the headquarters for Pot TV. "That's something they should
be upset about. They should get out in the street and say, 'No, we
need to end this prohibition and you're wasting my money.'"
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