Trying to make sense

Lynsey Kitching


In February 2012, four former BC Attorneys Generals came out in favour of BC taxing and regulating marijuana.

Former Liberal AG Geoff Plant joined former NDP AG’s Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Colin Gabelmann to say that marijuana prohibition causes “massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety and significant-and escalating-costs to taxpayers.”

A growing number of police officers, judges and correctional workers have been speaking out against marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs. Their international organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), has a number of BC law-enforcement officers.

Their advisory board includes former BC Chief Coroner and retired RCMP Chief Superintendent Vince Cain; former Mayor of Vancouver and retired RCMP Officer Larry Campbell; and Victoria police constable David Bratzer is on the LEAP Board of Directors.

Former BC Provincial Court Judge Jerry Paradis was a LEAP Board Member from 2003 until his death in 2010.

A variety of BC’s public health officials and organizations have come out in favour of marijuana law reform.

Dr. Perry Kendall, chief medical officer of BC, has called for a marijuana and drug policy based not on drug war and prohibition, but “alternative approaches that have proved more effective in protecting public heath while not enriching organized crime and driving gang violence.”

With support of the above public figures and many more, Sensible BC recently began its campaign to decriminalize marijuana through a referendum across BC. In order to achieve this, they have to gather signatures of support from at least 10 percent of registered voters in each of BC’s 85 electoral districts in 90 days.

Locally, Anastasia Jeffrey is the Sensible BC representative and will have a table set up at the community centre every Wednesday from four to six p.m. if you would like to inform yourself on the issues at hand and also to give you a chance to sign the petition.

In Tumbler Ridge we have 2115 registered voters. This means for Tumbler Ridge to reach 10 percent, 212 people would need to sign the petition, with 217 people who can out to vote at the last by-election, it will probably be a close race.

“The initiative is to amend the police act to no longer be using our provincial resources to enforce laws about the use and possession of cannabis for adults. Provided everything goes the way we hope it will, then we will call on the federal government to repeal the prohibition on a federal level or to give BC an exemption so we can take the steps necessary to regulate it the way alcohol and cigarettes are,” says Jeffrey.

Federally, the government has also begun to change its medicinal marijuana plan. By  March 31, 2014 they will have changed the system from allowing individuals to grow in their own homes, to having a large scale open market industry (maximum 156 facilities), which expects to hit $1.3 billion in revenue by 2024 from the sale of medical marijuana. The current number of medical marijuana users approved by Health Canada is 37,359, up from 477 in 2002.

Health Canada projects the number of approved medical marijuana users to rise to 58,000 by 2014 and 450,000 by 2024.

Jeffrey would like BC to pave the way for the rest of Canada in terms of marijuana legislation. “People would be signing to say we don’t want to spend money arresting people for possession. Those resources could be put to such better use than a losing war on marijuana. This has been going on for a long time.”

In fact, CBC reports, using statistics gathered by law enforcement and health authorities in the US, Europe and Australia over a nearly 20-year period, Dr. Evan Wood, one of the report’s authors and the Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at UBC says, “By every metric, the war on drugs has failed,” adding that some estimates suggest more than $1 trillion has been spent over the past 40 years on the war in North America alone.

Though Sensible BC may be a difficult sell in a small mining community such as Tumbler Ridge, Jeffrey sees this campaign as not only about using tax dollars more effectively, but as a way for people to realize we do have the ability to make change. “I really do think we are headed in the right direction here,” she says, “It’s kind of enforcing our rights as citizens that if there is legislation or laws we don’t agree with because we think they are obnoxious, or that they have no practical use anymore, that we can actually change them. We can say, here is another option and actually change it. I think this campaign is trying to illustrate to the people that we can do it. We are capable.”

In town, there have been mixed reviews to the campaign, as would be expected. “The other day I had a flyer that said, marijuana referendum, and people got kind of freaked out by the word marijuana. I think people are nervous that if they sign this petition it will get back to their employer,” says Jeffrey.

In contrast, some people who want their tax dollars going towards different issues than arrested people for small possession of marijuana (note: dealing or growing marijuana will still be illegal), have started to sign in support of the movement.

“The first day I was out, I had just gotten my card and within 10 minutes I had a full sheet of signatures, which is 10. I mentioned the words marijuana referendum and Sensible BC and all of a sudden there were people who wanted to sign the petition.”

If you would like to sign the petition, Jeffrey will be found every Wednesday from four to six p.m. at the community centre. Sensible BC began the campaign on Sept. 9 and it will continue for 90 days.