If British Columbians go to the polls to decriminalize marijuana, they can thank an earlier high-profile referendum for leading the way: that of the harmonized sales tax.
Dana Larsen – a marijuana advocate who has served as editor at Cannabis Culture magazine, opened a medical marijuana dispensary and even run for the provincial New Democratic Party leadership – will begin collecting signatures for his Sensible BC campaign next year. Elections BC has already deemed the issue suitable for referendum and a vote could be held in 2014.
The marijuana referendum might not have happened if B.C. residents hadn’t voted to strike down the much-maligned HST last year. “Seeing the anti-HST campaign actually succeed was very inspiring,” Mr. Larsen said in an interview this week. He had considered the referendum route before, but said the HST vote was proof “that it actually could be done.”
For B.C. marijuana advocates, Mr. Larsen’s campaign appears to represent the best hope for decriminalization. Although advocates hailed legalization votes in Washington state and Colorado this week as a sign that Ottawa, too, should amend its policies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he will not reopen the issue.
In Seattle, the immediate jubilation gave way to doubts. Phones at medical marijuana establishments rang off the hook, courtesy of the confused – such dispensaries don’t sell dope. And while it appears possessing marijuana will be legal in Washington on Dec. 6, the U.S. Department of Justice could still intervene.
Mr. Larsen’s quest has him touring B.C. communities, garnering support for his campaign. On this day, he answers his phone while in a parking lot in the northern town of Terrace.
The advance push is necessary. When Mr. Larsen and volunteers hit the streets to begin collecting signatures next fall, they will have 90 days to get 10 per cent of registered voters in all 85 B.C. ridings. The same requirements were met for the HST referendum.
Mr. Larsen’s proposed legislation is called the Sensible Policing Act. It would amend the B.C. Police Act to decriminalize marijuana possession for adults. Police would be prohibited from using time or resources to arrest people on simple possession of cannabis. The Sensible Police Act would not apply to laws on trafficking or cultivation. Minors caught with marijuana would face the same penalties as they do with alcohol.
Although B.C. is widely viewed as rather liberal when it comes to drug possession, Statistics Canada says more than 3,000 people were charged with possession in the province last year. Municipal police departments, such as Vancouver and Victoria, reported lower rates of marijuana possession per population than many of the province’s RCMP detachments.
On the same day that Washington and Colorado voted to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, Ottawa brought in new drug penalties, including mandatory six-month prison terms for growing as few as six plants.
– Read the entire article at The Globe and Mail.