Four Former Vancouver Mayors Back Call For an End to Pot Prohibition

Four former Vancouver mayors have endorsed a coalition calling for an end to pot prohibition in Canada that they blame for rampant gang violence.

Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan and Philip Owen all signed an open letter to politicians in B.C. Wednesday claiming a change in the law will reduce gang violence.

The former mayors support the position of the Stop the Violence BC coalition, which recently released a survey showing most B.C. residents favoured an end to the current marijuana laws.

The letter says "marijuana prohibition is -- without question -- a failed policy."

"It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer, and must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition," the letter says.

The letter was sent to MPs, MLAs and city councillors and is designed to drive debate on new marijuana policies.

"It is unconscionable, unacceptable and unreasonable that the criminal element in B.C. is allowed to grow and thrive in B.C. due to inaction on the part of the politicians," said Sullivan, who served 12 years as a city councillor before being elected mayor of Vancouver in 2005. "Politicians must play a key role in the development of new policies that can really provide safer, stronger communities."

The coalition said that a recent poll showed B.C. residents don't have faith that politicians can design policies that effectively reduce criminal, health and social harms stemming from the illegal marijuana trade.

The Angus Reid poll showed that just 32 per cent of British Columbians trust municipal politicians to develop effective marijuana policy. Trust in federal and provincial politicians is even lower - at 28 per cent (federal) and 27 per cent (provincial).

Meanwhile, far more British Columbians say they distrust municipal (62 per cent), provincial (69 per cent), or federal (68 per cent) politicians to design policies to effectively reduce harms stemming from the illegal marijuana trade.

Campbell, who is now a senator, challenged politicians to "prove the public wrong."

"Politicians have tremendous access to information, expertise and the levers of power, and must use all of the tools at their disposal to fight gang violence by implementing rational marijuana policies," Campbell said.

The Angus Reid poll was commissioned by the anti-violence coalition, made up of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts.

The coalition is promising to keep the pressure on with continued polling and reports.

"These poll results reinforce the fact that British Columbians are way ahead of those they have elected in recognizing the destructive outcomes from marijuana prohibition," said Dr. Evan Wood, a coalition member and Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

"It's time politicians of all stripes consider the gang violence and criminal activity resulting from marijuana prohibition, and enact policies that reflect the desire of British Columbians for change."

- Article from The Vancouver Sun.

Read the letter:

From: Sam Sullivan, Michael Harcourt, Larry Campbell, and Philip Owen

To: All B.C. MPs, MLAs, Mayors and Councillors

Re: Call to Action – Marijuana prohibition and its effects on violent crime, community safety, and the health and well-being of our citizens

As former Mayors of the City of Vancouver, we are asking all elected leaders in British Columbia to speak out about the ineffectiveness and harms of cannabis prohibition.

Marijuana prohibition is – without question – a failed policy. It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer; they must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition.

Among the most pressing issues is the contribution that cannabis prohibition has made to organized crime and gang violence. The Fraser Institute has estimated that B.C.’s illegal cannabis trade may be worth up to $7 billion dollars annually. This massive illegal market drives violence in communities throughout the province. New thinking, new policies and collaboration across party lines are required to protect our communities and make them safer.

Unfortunately, research and practical experience from Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere clearly demonstrates that increasing anti-cannabis law enforcement strategies will not reduce the availability to young people. Cannabis prohibition has failed globally. While we fully recognize that marijuana is not without health-related harms, the failure of cannabis prohibition to reduce the availability of the drug to young people requires an urgent and novel response.

We agree with the Stop the Violence BC coalition and the criminologists, economists, lawyers, law enforcement and public health experts under its umbrella: we must move from a violent unregulated market to a strictly regulated cannabis market that is based on a public health framework. We believe a legally regulated market for adult cannabis use has the potential to reduce rates of cannabis use while at the same time directly addressing organized crime concerns by starving them of this cash cow. A regulated market would enable governments to improve community health and safety while at the same time raising millions in tax revenue.

The time for action is now. A recent Angus Reid poll demonstrated that 69% of British Columbians believe that chasing and arresting marijuana producers and sellers is ineffective and that British Columbians would be better off taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana. We fully agree.

Clearly, elected officials are out of step with their public on marijuana prohibition. It is time that elected officials enter the debate and deliver specific proposals to address the easy availability of cannabis to youth and the organized crime concerns stemming directly from cannabis prohibition.

If you agree, please step forward, join this call for change and add your influential voice to the debate. In addition, we encourage you to notify Stop the Violence BC of your endorsement so that they may profile your support and adjust their education efforts accordingly.

If you disagree, there is nevertheless an ethical and moral obligation to join the debate, because the stakes for our communities, our youth and our fellow British Columbians are so high.

Politicians of all stripes – not just at the federal level – must respond before further damage is done to our B.C. communities. We must break the silence on this issue. The status quo must change.


Sam Sullivan, Mayor of Vancouver, 2005-2008

Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, 2002-2005

Philip Owen, Mayor of Vancouver, 1993-2002

Mike Harcourt, Mayor of Vancouver, 1980-1986


No Gordo? (1986-"93)

No Gordo? (1986-"93)



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