Pubdate: Thu, 08 Aug 2013
Source: Whistler Question (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013, Whistler Printing & Publishing Ltd.
Author: Brandon Barrett
Cited: MMAR DPL/PPL Coalition Against Repeal:


Sensible BC Director Seeks Support for Legislation Effectively 
Decriminalizing Simple Possession

Former NDP candidate and current director of Sensible BC Dana Larsen 
wants to legalize marijuana use in Canada and he wants Sea to Sky 
residents' help to do so.

Sensible BC is a Vancouver-based group that formed last year with the 
aim of working towards the decriminalization of simple cannabis 
possession in the province and a final goal of full legalization 
across the country. Larsen is now embarking on a whirlwind tour of 
B.C., visiting 32 towns in 12 days - including stops in Whistler, 
Pemberton and Squamish - to promote his campaign for a marijuana referendum.

"Our goal is to get signatures and support in every single electoral 
district in the province, so we need volunteers on the ground in 
every town and community, and certainly Whistler is an important 
place for us," said Larsen.

The activist is trying to register at least 5,000 canvassers across 
B.C. to seek signatures in support of legislation Larsen has 
prepared, called The Sensible Policing Act. Larsen's proposal would 
effectively decriminalize marijuana by preventing police from making 
searches or arrests for simple possession. The proposed law has been 
accepted by Elections BC, and Larsen will have 90 days from Sept. 9 
to collect signatures from at least 10 per cent of registered voters 
in every electoral district - around 400,000 in total.

Provincial officials could either nix the proposed legislation or 
pass it into law, and also have the option of opening the issue to a 
public vote with a referendum, the most likely scenario in Larsen's mind.

"(The province) has the option of just killing it even if we do get 
the signatures, but I would expect that would be a huge affront to 
the democratic process and what people expect out of their 
government," he said. "There would certainly be immense political 
pressure on them just to have a vote on it."

The legislation, if passed, would also update provincial liquor laws 
so that possession of marijuana by a minor would be treated the same 
as alcohol, and would ask the Attorney General to formally request 
the federal government consider the repeal of marijuana prohibition.

According to a 2013 Sensible BC-commissioned study by Simon Fraser 
University criminologist Neil Boyd, the number of charges for 
cannabis possession in B.C. doubled between 2005 and 2011. The 
research also indicated that in 2011 alone, cannabis enforcement cost 
B.C. taxpayers about $10.5 million.

"There's no question that marijuana is one of, if not the biggest 
industry in our province. It competes with tourism and forestry, and 
we've handed that whole industry over to gangs - not only gangs, all 
kinds of people grow marijuana - but certainly the whole industry is 
dominated by those who are willing to break laws the most, and that's 
all because of prohibition," he said. "We should be bringing the 
industry above ground."

A recent study by researchers from Simon Fraser and the University of 
British Columbia stated that the legalization of marijuana in B.C. 
could generate $2.5 billion in government tax and licensing revenues 
over the next five years.

With new legislation coming into effect in April 2014 that would see 
Health Canada and licensed home growers phase out their production 
and distribution of medical marijuana, the market is wide open for 
private companies looking to capitalize on the more than 26,000 
Canadians currently enrolled in the federal Medical Marihuana Access 
Program. Former Whistlerite and Olympic gold medalist Ross Rebagliati 
has even thrown his hat into the ring, announcing preliminary plans 
in January to establish a government approved dispensary and retail 
outlet in the resort. But while commercial companies are chomping at 
the bit for their chance to produce and distribute medical marijuana, 
Larsen questions Ottawa's changes to the current program.

"I'm not averse to people buying marijuana by mail order from 
companies. What I don't like is that it is the only option," said 
Larsen. "Patients will not be able to look at, smell or find anything 
out about the marijuana they're getting other than what they can find 
out online but mainly they won't be able to access extracts and 
derivatives, so no cookies or capsules, no creams or lotions or 
anything like that will be allowed for them to purchase."

In June, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that designated marijuana 
growers could produce and sell cannabis extracts to patients, the 
only province in Canada so far to do so.

"I run dispensaries and we sell all sorts of marijuana products, and 
if the government or some other kind of system came along that could 
provide a greater range of higher quality products and lower prices 
than we do, I would consider that a success and shut down. "But 
that's not what this program is doing," Larsen said. While medical 
dispensaries are technically illegal in Canada, some municipal police 
forces, most notably Vancouver's, have turned a blind eye.

Other groups, like the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations 
DPL/PPL Coalition Against Repeal, have been vocal about their 
opposition to the government's changes, which would take the 
production of medical marijuana out of the hands of sick and disabled 
home growers to large-scale commercial companies, and is expected to 
cost patients more than four times the current medication costs under 
the existing program. The group has over 3,400 members and is 
actively working to prevent the regulations from coming into force next year.

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