BC Attorney General Dodges Questions About Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative

CANNABIS CULTURE – British Columbia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Shirley Bond, responding to questions about the Sensible BC marijuana decriminalization campaign, said that Canada’s federal government is ultimately responsible for making or changing the drugs laws the province must enforce.

Bond, in response to questions about the Sensible Policing Act (part of an Elections BC-approved ballot initiative campaign that would de-fund police enforcement of marijuana possession laws), sent the following statement in an email message to Cannabis Culture.

Whether the decriminalization of marijuana is an appropriate strategy from a public health versus law and order perspective has been the subject of long and public debate. However, it is not my intention to speculate on decriminalization of illicit drugs when provinces do not have authority over federal legislation.

Drug regulation is the jurisdiction of the federal government, which has responsibility for the prosecution of marijuana offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is appropriate that they be the ones to respond to this debate.

The initiative process under the Recall and Initiative Act is highly valued in this province and available to any registered voter in British Columbia to propose changes to provincial laws or propose new ones.

Police are constitutionally required to enforce the rule of law. Until and unless Canadian law is changed, the production, sale and use of marijuana is currently illegal (controlled federal legislation), and our police have a responsibility to enforce criminal laws for the good of all British Columbians.

Seeking further comment, Cannabis Culture responded to Bond with a more direct line of questioning:

This ballot initiative has been approved by the province as something that it completely legal and allowed according to the rules of ballot initiatives and the law. In that sense, we know that this issue is NOT actually federal jurisdiction and that the province has the ability to de-fund the police if they choose. That’s why the (approved!) initiative was designed this way.

Will the AG adopt this fully-legal and valid ballot initiative if the citizens vote yes?

To which, Bond responded:

The provincial government provides overall direction respecting police services in the province and ensures there are adequate and effective levels of policing. Police agencies have operational independence and conduct individual investigations at arm’s length from government, and the province cannot interfere with or direct police in particular investigations. Under the Canadian Constitution, the criminal laws relating to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are federal and are prosecuted at a federal level.

I am not going to speculate on initiative petitions on the subject since none exists at this moment.

Sensible BC Director Dana Larsen told Cannabis Culture he thought Bond’s statement was a “cop-out”.

“They should really be taking a stand on it,” Larsen said. “There are plenty of precedents there – examples of the province standing up to the federal government on law enforcement issues … but right now the easiest response for any political leader to give at the provincial level is ‘it’s a federal issue and I can’t do anything. Go talk to Harper.'”

An example, Larsen said, is the response from provinces to the federal gun registry.

“That was one where not just British Columbia, but eight provinces, all stood up to the federal government and said ‘we refuse to enforce this federal law,'” Larsen said. “The long gun registry was part of the Federal Firearms Act and attorneys-general across Canada said ‘this is a law that cost a lot of money, it’s criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens, it’s not accomplishing the goals it’s supposed to accomplish, and nobody’s following it anyways – we are not going to enforce it.’ All those things apply to cannabis in the same way.”

Larsen pointed out that Bond recently signed a 20-year contract with the RCMP and promised the people of BC and municipalities unprecedented control over the RCMP and its funding, and that BC’s municipal leaders recently endorsed a resolution to decriminalize marijuana.

“They should at least say they’re going to support this if it gets passed by the people of British Columbia,” Larsen said.

Recent polls show three-quarters of BC residents want marijuana legalized and taxed like alcohol or tobacco.

A number of high-profile BC politicos including four former attorneys-generals, four former Vancouver mayors, Vancouver’s current mayor, and Liberal MLA Kash Heed all spoke out against marijuana prohibition in 2012.

BC Liberal MLA and Former police chief Kash Heed responed to Bond’s statement during a panel on marijuana legalization at Simon Fraser University, calling her comments “destructive” and “disturbing.”