Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jul 2013
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 Postmedia Network Inc.
Authors: Gordon McIntyre and Cassidy Olivier
Cited: Sensible BC:


Group Needs 40,000 Signatures Across B.C. Just to Spark Referendum

Being given the go-ahead to gather signatures for a pot referendum 
was like the starter's gun going off.

Now, Sensible B.C. faces something akin to one of those days-long, 
200-kilometre desert foot races.

"Incredibly daunting, that's a good word," Dana Larsen, director of 
the group that's pushing for a referendum on pot possession, said 
Wednesday. "There's no guarantee we'll have success ... but I'm more 
confident than I was when we started this process over a year ago."

To have any hope of holding a referendum on its proposed Sensible 
Policing Act, about 40,000 signatures must be collected, representing 
10 per cent of registered voters in each and every provincial riding.

If that step is successful, a referendum would be held in 2014. To 
win that, Sensible B.C. would need yes votes from not only a majority 
of the turnout across the province, but also a majority in two-thirds 
of B.C.'s 85 ridings.

There's a 90-day period to gather signatures, beginning Sept. 9, so 
Larsen is visiting as many ridings as he can before then and will 
continue stumping into October.

"You need a lot of canvassers and you need them in every riding," 
said Bill Tieleman, a political commentator and president of West 
Star Communications.

Tieleman was involved in a similar initiative in 2010 when his 
Fight-HST group spearheaded a campaign under the Recall and 
Initiatives Act to repeal the Harmonized Sales Tax.

"We came within 600 signatures of losing the whole thing, based on 
one of the Abbotsford ridings," he said.

In the end, the anti-HST campaign won roughly 55 per cent of the 
popular vote and 70 per cent of the ridings, and the HST was repealed.

Sensible B.C. says 70 per cent of B.C.ers polled are in favour of 
liberalizing pot-possession laws. A study the group commissioned 
earlier this year reported that B.C. taxpayers spend just under 
$9,000 per conviction for simple pot possession and that only about 
seven per cent of all police reports of possession result in convictions.

Yet, the same study reported, RCMP detachments in B.C. more than 
doubled the number of simple-possession charges they laid between 
2006 and 2011.

The issue isn't partisan, Larsen said: "This is not an attack on the 
Liberal government, they didn't create prohibition." The anti-HST 
movement, on the other hand, was very much a pointed attack against 
the Liberals.

Larsen granted that being pro-pot has more stigma attached than being 
anti-tax. And that may be the biggest hurdle the policing act will 
face, ex-premier and anti-HST crusader Bill Vander Zalm said.

"It's such a tough, tough task," Vander Zalm said. "And it will be 
especially tough on this issue because people are more divided than 
they were on HST.

"But . . . we need to have this issue addressed. Marijuana is pretty 
common with people these days and it gets to people illegally. A 
practical mind would say get it to people legally and collect taxes."

That's a long way off. The policing act, if it ever was passed by the 
legislature, would only direct police away from laying 
simple-possession charges. That's something people like Kash Heed, a 
former solicitor-general and a member of Stop the Violence B.C., 
feels is a shortcoming.

"I support what they are doing, but it won't deal with ... the 
regulation and taxation part of it - to take money away from 
organized crime . . . and put it back into badly needed programs 
around prevention and education," Heed said.

But until federal laws are changed, things will remain status quo, 
said Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton.

"Even if the group is successful in collecting enough signatures for 
the petition, the outcome would be uncertain," she said. "Our 
position is that until and unless Canadian federal law is changed, 
the production, sale and use of marijuana is currently prohibited, 
except in the case of specific exceptions such as medicinal marijuana."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom