Marijuana policy needs B.C. approach: Victoria decriminalization advocate

A man lights up a marijuana cigar in Centennial Square during a previous 4/20 cannabis consumption event. Advocates supporting the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana are looking for a definitive stance on the issue from provincial election candidates. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
A man lights up a marijuana cigar in Centennial Square during a previous 4/20 cannabis consumption event. Advocates supporting the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana are looking for a definitive stance on the issue from provincial election candidates.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

Provincial politicians need to step up and reveal their views on the legalization of marijuana, according to several B.C. advocacy groups.

Ted Smith, former head of the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Canada, said the province needs to take action on the decriminalization of marijuana and stop deflecting responsibility onto the federal government.

“The provincial government (has always given) a lame-duck excuse that it’s not their responsibility, because it’s a federal law,” Smith said. “But it is their responsibility, because the provinces and municipalities are paying for bad policy every day through our police departments. (The province) isn’t even defending these laws at all anymore, they’re just saying ‘it’s not our job.’”

Advocates argue public opinion has reached a tipping point, as evidenced by a recent Angus Reid poll that shows 73 per cent of British Columbians want the province to undertake a comprehensive pilot study on the regulation of marijuana.

Stop the Violence B.C., a multi-faceted lobby group including law enforcement and health officials, legal experts, academic professionals and current and former politicians, commissioned the poll.

The group argues a regulated marijuana market will improve public health and safety by taking the drug out of the hands of criminal organizations and allowing government to develop a message for its responsible use by adults.

“We manage to regulate one of the deadliest drugs, and that’s tobacco, and we want to examine that same model … for legalizing cannabis, much in the same way some of the U.S. states have done,” said John Anderson, a criminologist at Vancouver Island University and a Stop the Violence B.C. member.

The poll also shows only 12 per cent of British Columbians would look unfavourably on their own political party for supporting a trial study on cannabis regulation.

Last September, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution urging the federal government to consider decriminalizing marijuana possession, a crime that accounted for 54 per cent of all reported drug crimes in Canada in 2011, according to Statistics Canada numbers.

The onerous burden on police forces, as well as the health risks associated with an uncontrolled product, were two reasons given by the Canadian senate in 2002 when it recommended legalizing and regulating marijuana.

And a UNICEF research study released last month revealed that 28 per cent of Canadian children aged 11, 13 and 15 reported having used cannabis in 2009-2010, the highest reported use among 29 developed countries.

While the federal government has given no indication it would support marijuana regulation, preliminary action by provincial politicians is overdue, said Geoff Plant, former B.C. attorney general.

“British Columbians clearly want their politicians to show leadership on marijuana policy reform,” he said in a statement. “With the province facing an election in a few weeks, now is the time for all political parties to let the public know whether they will support the proposed research trial of cannabis taxation and regulation.”

Stop the Violence B.C. has sent a questionnaire to all B.C. candidates asking their opinion on cannabis legalization; organizers plan to release any responses before the election.

“Politicians are running out of excuses not to act,” Anderson said. “You can’t put your personal viewpoints ahead of what the science says. Criminalizing cannabis is leading to more violence in society, not less.”

In Monday’s televised debate, all four party leaders acknowledged current laws relating to marijuana are federal, but the NDP’s Adrian Dix and Green’s Jane Sterk reiterated their support for decriminalization. Premier Christy Clark avoided giving an opinion on the matter, while Conservative leader John Cummins said any changes would require discussions with Ottawa and the U.S.

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