Pubdate: Fri, 29 Nov 2013
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2013 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Wood
Cited: Sensible BC:


There is just one week to go in SensibleBC's crusade to decriminalize 
pot possession in British Columbia and the group has significantly 
ramped up campaign efforts, nearly tripling its volunteers and 
shifting strategies in the final push.

But success is likely out of reach.

The marijuana advocacy group has collected somewhere between 175,000 
and 200,000 signatures since the campaign began on Sept. 9, director 
and spokesman Dana Larsen says. That's still a considerable distance 
from what's needed to force a referendum on a draft bill called the 
Sensible Policing Act: roughly 320,000 signatures, represented by 10 
per cent of registered voters in each of the province's 85 electoral districts.

The group wants to amend the province's Police Act to prohibit the 
use of police resources on enforcing marijuana possession laws, 
essentially decriminalizing it. The proposed Sensible Policing Act 
would not affect laws around trafficking, possession for the purposes 
of trafficking or cultivation.

The number of registered canvassers has grown from about 1,700 to 
more than 4,500 during the campaign, Mr. Larsen said. In addition to 
setting up tables and parking the SensibleBC campaign bus - the 
Cannabus - at busy locations such as SkyTrain stations, volunteers 
are now going door-to-door collecting signatures.

"You can only collect signatures at Metrotown SkyTrain station for so 
many weeks in a row before you start seeing the same people," Mr. Larsen said.

The group is hoping to collect the needed signatures by Dec. 5. It 
must then submit them to Elections BC by Dec. 9.

Some ridings have proved easier than others. Vancouver-West End and 
Nelson-Creston were among the first to meet the threshold, while 
ridings in the Fraser Valley and the Cariboo have been more difficult.

"Vancouver as a whole has been a challenge, partly because everybody 
thinks Vancouver's going to be really easy," Mr. Larsen said. "It's a 
big city with a lot of people here, with many different viewpoints. 
No district is a cakewalk. Just the number of signatures required in 
every spot is quite substantial."

Westside-Kelowna, Premier Christy Clark's riding, passed its 
threshold of about 4,500 signatures this week. SensibleBC marked the 
accomplishment with a small media event during which canvassers 
presented the petitions to Mr. Larsen and declared a symbolic victory.

However, the campaign has had its challenges. Petitioners have told 
of being spit on, cursed at, shooed away from businesses and 
otherwise harassed. A fast-food restaurant in Vancouver reportedly 
sent an employee out with a leaf blower to disrupt the petitioning.

"We've had people trying to steal our paperwork, people trying to 
light the table on fire," Mr. Larsen said. "One canvasser said 
someone tried to back over her with his truck."

"It's an issue that stirs people's emotions. Seven out of 10 British 
Columbians want the marijuana laws to change, but among that 30 per 
cent that are against it, there are some that are very passionately 
against it."

Maxwell Cameron, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic 
Institutions at the University of British Columbia, said while there 
is broad public support for the decriminalization of pot possession, 
it is no easy feat to fire up the public at large.

The campaign has tried to appeal to those ambivalent about the issue 
by pointing out B.C. spends about $10.5-million a year to charge and 
convict people for marijuana possession and is losing out on massive 
tax revenues.

A study done by UBC and Simon Fraser University researchers last year 
found British Columbians spend an estimated $500-million on marijuana a year.

Mr. Larsen said if the group fails to gather enough signatures this 
time, it will "definitely be trying again" in the future.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom