They didn’t serve pot brownies at the event, but Metchosin council’s drive to decriminalize marijuana gained clear support at an annual Vancouver Island local government conference this month.
Coun. Moralea Milne presented Metchosin’s resolution to decriminalize marijuana at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities annual convention in Ucluelet. She argued to the crowd of more than 200 mayors, councillors and regional directors, that crime problems stem from marijuana being illegal, not the drug itself.
“It was quite a lively discussion, and they all discussed the pros and the cons,” Moralea said. The discussion was cut off due to time constraints at the meeting over April 13 to 15.
The resolution stated that “Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy which has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs.” “About 65 to 75 per cent were in favour … they just do a visual count,” Milne said. “It was a resounding approval.”
The Metchosin councillor argues the illegality of marijuana is responsible for criminal behaviour and health risks, such as mouldy, unsafe grow-op houses, theft of electricity, and violence involving “drug rips.”
Langford Coun. Lillian Szpak was at the conference and was one of the many politicians who voted in favour of the motion.
Szpak said it was interesting to see the AVICC vote reflect a recent national poll by Toronto-based Forum Research Inc., where 73 per cent of British Colombians wanted to see the drug decriminalized.
“We all fear organized crime more than anything, and that came out at the conference,” Szpak said. “There is evidence that there are massive profits from marijuana for organized crime. There is easy access to marijuana and reduced public safety.”
Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne, no relation to Moralea Milne, was another supporter of the motion. A retired RCMP officer, he worked with a drug squad in Victoria.
“The war on drugs has failed,” Wendal said. “I don’t think they should legalize it, but they should decriminalize it.”
In his experience, he has seen people face charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana and others allowed to go free. Wendal said decriminalizing the drug would allow it to be regulated more consistently.
The Sooke mayor suggests the law should be changed to allow police to issue $175 tickets for smoking pot in public, similar to drinking alcohol. “You’ve got to have some type of control.”
Another issue brought up at the convention is that recreational marijuana users are receiving jail time and criminal records.
“Prohibition hasn’t achieved it goal. These are people in our communities that we don’t see as criminals,” Szpak said. “Decriminalization doesn’t mean legalization, it means you won’t have a criminal record for having a small amount of marijuana.”
With the support of AVICC, the motion will be carried to the annual meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in September.
AVICC’s call to decriminialize pot come alongside similar calls by high-profile British Columbians, including former B.C. attorneys-general Geoff Plant, Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh and Graeme Bowbrick, who signed a letter to Premier Christy Clark and Opposition leader Adrian Dix calling for the regulation and taxation of cannabis to combat organized crime.
B.C.’s chief medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall has also endorsed a health-based approach to marijuana policy.
“(Drugs are) federal jurisdiction, but it would be good if the province supported it too,” Moralea Milne said. “It’s a small but significant step forward.”
–with files from Jeff Nagel