Nathan (who asked his surname be withheld) lights up a joint rolled in cigar paper last year in Centennial Square

Nathan (who asked his surname be withheld) lights up a joint rolled in cigar paper last year in Centennial Square

B.C. candidates should step up on marijuana reform: poll

Lobby group aims to get B.C.'s electoral candidates on the record about their cannabis views

  • Apr. 24, 2013 11:00 a.m.

Provincial politicians are facing growing pressure to reveal their support or opposition to the legalization and regulation of marijuana in B.C., according to a new poll.

Stop the Violence B.C. – a lobby group of law enforcement and health officials, legal experts, academic professionals and ex-politicians – commissioned an 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.

“The provincial government comes up with a lame-duck excuse that it’s not their responsibility because it’s a federal law. But it is their responsibility because the provinces and municipalities are paying for bad policy every day through our police departments,” said Ted Smith, former head of the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Canada.

“They’re not defending these laws at all anymore, they’re just saying ‘it’s not our job.'”

Stop the Violence B.C. believes a regulated marijuana market will improve public health and safety by taking the drug out of the hands of criminal organizations and by allowing government to develop a responsible message for its 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 that some of the U.S. states have done,” said John Anderson, a criminologist at Vancouver Island University and Stop the Violence B.C. member.

The poll, released April 18, 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 report released earlier this month shows 28 per cent of Canadian children aged 11, 13 and 15 reported having used cannabis in 2009-2010, the highest use reported out of 29 developed countries.

While the federal government has given no indication it would support marijuana regulation, provincial politicians should understand public opinion has reached a tipping point, said Geoff Plant, former B.C. attorney general.

“British Columbians clearly want their politicians to show leadership on marijuana policy reform,” Plant 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 collected data in the coming weeks.

Another pro-marijuana group, Sensible B.C., is hoping to collect more than 400,000 voter signatures in September to put the issue of cannabis decriminalization to a referendum vote in 2014.

“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.”

The Angus Reid poll was conducted April 8 and 9 using a randomized representative sample of 807 British Columbian adults and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

dpalmer@vicnews.com