Decriminalize or legalize?

I often get asked about what I mean when I say that our Sensible BC campaign wants to “decriminalize” cannabis in BC.

Some people tell me they don’t like the idea of decriminalizing, and that we must legalize cannabis instead.

Other people say they don’t want legalization, and will only support a decriminalized model.

Some people think that “decriminalization” means that people in possession of cannabis will still get a punishment, like a ticket or fine.

Others worry that “legalization” will mean that only tobacco companies will be able to grow and sell cannabis.

Our goal is to avoid both of those situations. We want to help create a legal, regulated cannabis industry in BC, one in which anyone can participate.

We seek reasonable regulations, but not a monopolized system for production and sale.


The ultimate goal of the Sensible BC campaign is to create a legally regulated system for cannabis in BC, which we hope will spread across the rest of Canada.

However, BC cannot change the federal cannabis laws, so we cannot fully legalize as a province without action by the federal government.

In Canada, the provinces don’t control criminal law, but they have jurisdiction over policing and the “administration of justice.”

Our goal with the Sensible Policing Act is to implement a positive first step and decriminalize cannabis possession in BC. We do that by using the province’s jurisdiction to stop all police in BC from detaining or arresting anyone for simple possession of cannabis.

This form of decriminalization doesn’t involve any tickets or fines, it simply stops police from spending their time on possession of cannabis. Otherwise law-abiding citizens in possession of cannabis would simply be left alone.

This takes cannabis users off the front lines of the drug war, and allows police to redirect their resources towards more serious crimes.

We recognize that just stopping police from wasting resources on possession charges isn’t going to solve all the problems of cannabis prohibition. However, it is a sensible first step.

To get us to a legally regulated system in BC, the Sensible Policing Act also demands that the federal government change the law and repeal cannabis prohibition, or else just give BC an exemption, so that we can go further and properly legalize and regulate cannabis in our province.


Although we can all agree that cannabis prohibition has failed, there is not full agreement on how exactly to legalize and regulate it. We still have to answer some important questions.

Should people be allowed to grow their own cannabis? If so, how much? Should cannabis be sold in stores? What kinds of taxes should there be? Should there be taxes on medical cannabis products? What about extracts and foods? What is the best age limit?

Before we can put a legalized system in place, we need to have the answers to these kinds of questions.

This is basically what they voted for in Washington and Colorado. In both states they have decriminalized possession immediately, making police stop bothering anyone for possession of cannabis. In Colorado, they have also legalized cultivation of up to six plants per person.

Now both state governments have until November to figure out the details needed to open some sort of government-regulated cannabis shops. That is why our Sensible Policing Act includes a section that makes the BC government figure out these kind of details.

If the Sensible Policing Act becomes law, there will be a provincial commission with public hearings, to recommend how we start off with legalization in BC. This commission would travel the province, taking advice from citizens, researchers and other relevant groups. They would then come up with the rules and laws needed to put legalization in place in BC.


I personally advocate for the “wine model” for legal cannabis.

Anyone can brew a limited amount of wine in their own home, tax-free, for their own use or to share with friends. Anyone can open a winery too, but there is regulation for safety and quality control. The province regulates wine sales, and is the primary buyer and seller of wine through liquor stores.

I don’t think there should be any taxes on cannabis grown for your own use, or when used medicinally. Cannabis sold in a store or cafe should be taxed like other products. Cannabis foods and extracts should be labelled as to potency and effects.

However, these are just my personal ideas. The Sensible Policing Act doesn’t specify how we will implement legalization in BC. The commission will figure out those details when the time comes, and the process will be one in which all British Columbians can participate.

I hope this clarifies our position and goals with the Sensible BC campaign. This is a unique opportunity for us to actually change the marijuana laws, right here in BC.

Together we can make this dream come true!

Thank you for your support.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

DANA LARSEN, Sensible BC Director

Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen is the author of "Green Buds and Hash" and "Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone" and a well-known Vancouver cannabis activist, businessman and politician. He served ten years as editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine, is the co-founder of the Vancouver Seed Bank, founder of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Cannabis Dispensaries. Larsen was a founding member of the BC Marijuana Party and the Canadian Marijuana Party. In 2003 he joined the NDP, running as an NDP candidate in 2008. In 2011, he ran for the Leadership of the BC NDP. Larsen is also founder and director of Sensible BC, Canada’s largest grassroots cannabis reform organization.



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  7. Anonymous on

    Decriminalize not Legalize. If you legalize and tax it, companies would be pushing it on us just like they do with alcohol and tobacco. I am mostly concerned with the kids, pot makes studying a bit difficult. I think it should be legal to grow, posses, use or give away but illegal to sell. This would keep it non profitable for the corporations and the black market. Medical pot would have to be regulated though.

  8. Anonymous on

    For the beginning, should never be prohibited.
    You tell me who wants to make war and prohibit a plant that is born on Earth and was made by God, is the same as you tell me the rain is prohibited, an absurd and a usurpation of power because God not gave thee this authority for you, not to ban things made by God himself; you have no control over this and nor about my life or personal choices.

  9. Anonymous on

    The new issue that has been appeared in North America is that; now the federal government announced its intention to invalidate all the personal marijuana-growing licenses in 2014. This means many of the licensed marijuana growers wouldn’t be able to grow marijuana and then, they will have to buy it from the government only. I think the government somehow doubts the ability of marijuana growers to cultivate quality stuff? Read It from this issue – BIGBUDSMAG marijuana-growers-canada-advanced-nutrients-hydroponics

  10. Anonymous on

    I agree with you about regulations for selling cannabis in a store.
    I know that there should be some labeling of product, there should be safety standards for producing and you need to know the quality of the product you are getting.
    Labels would help also with knowing potency, dosage, strain of cannabis, amount of terpenes, types and ratios of cannabinoids.
    If there were safety guidelines you can get a safe, quality product with known traits, effects and dosage. Though you have to keep in mind that cannabis is a plant and plants do have differences from each other, so there can be some differences from plant to plant.
    I have done some research into types of cannabis testing and this testing can be a way to have accurate labeling of cannabis. There is a lab that I have researched that already offers consulting on labels.

  11. Anonymous on

    If I am buying a marijuana product in a store, I want regulations in place to ensure that it is clean, organic, safely produced and properly labeled. Someone growing marijuana for their own use doesn’t need regulating, but marijuana products sold in a store for human consumption should be regulated for safety and quality.

  12. Anonymous on

    don’t decriminalize it. yeah yeah, and I will advertise it!

    Really, the govt has no business in telling me what to consume, how much or the quality, nor any right to tax it. What’s really going to happen is the drug companies are going to break down the Cannabinoids, patient them, sell them as pharmaceuticals and be in control of all cannabis. Instead of the govt coming after you, it will be the drug companies. You heard it here first.

    Legalize now and prevent this.

  13. Anonymous on

    I know here in the states when you talk about tax and regulate you lose the Libertarian vote. We are overtaxed and regulated to point of economic stagnation here in the states.

    There’s a lot of misinformation aka lies perpetuated by the left and right that seeks to keep us divided.

  14. Anonymous on

    “We want to help create a legal, regulated cannabis industry in BC, one in which anyone can participate.”

    Legal, yes. “Regulated” no. We all know what “regulation” would do… those who don’t consent to be “regulated” will be chased by ignorant, mercenary, gun-toting, vicious thugs who get their jollies off by destroying decent people and families. People who are their betters.

    How is that much different from what prevails today?

    I say keep the “regulators” out of it and leave people to be free.

  15. Anonymous on

    I don’t want a brand like Monsanto to spray crap on my herb. We need to reward organic out of the gate to prevent large corps with their patented herb ruining it for everyone.
    As for tax, lets keep the market open to price fluctuations rather than fixed like alcohol. One herb is not like the other. If market prices become really low then gov’t share isn’t just a cash cow.


  16. Anonymous on

    Why does everything that you do need to be taxed? Government has gotten too big and why do you think we need to satisfy ANYONE in the government? Legalization WILL happen, but people need to stop giving in to everything that the government wants. Pretty soon there will be a tax every time you take a shit, although a tax on your own homegrown weed for personal consumption sounds like a shit tax to me by itself.

  17. Anonymous on

    Cannabis for personal use is like any herb, when selling at allowed spots just tax the (digital) component info for medicinal or recreative purposes (conform method of screening in reference of the international conference on harmonisation guideliness Hazekamp & Verpoorte), so from the principle of ‘informed consent’ the componets are known to people before use and research on efficacy of different components of cannabis with dosages with sight on the endo-cannabinoid system is stimulated. Simple and quite possible under the UN preambule of Vienna of ’71 on psychotropic substances: Legitimate purposes should not be unduly restricted (mentioned in Garretsen cs june 2011 Drugs in Lists). Now just a majority of politicians with guts to allow opening cannabis-labs with e.g an opiumexemption, under subervision of pharmacognosists or Tibetan Buddhist docters. Slighty different from the phenomenological approch of
    – Heartgreetz drs. H.Kooistra, Amsterdam

  18. Anonymous on

    Thanks Dana, I agree that pursuing a model like ubrew is the best solution. The majority of people are too lazy to grow their own, so they will happily pay for a taxed service to acquire their product.
    What about paying a greenhouse to manage your plant? Well at least it’s safer than the blag-flag treated herb on the streets today.
    What we are pursuing is an end to the criminal black market that is currently profiting from the criminalized model. Opening the door to products and services. For the sick, and the recreational, this multi-faceted resource will create jobs and provide safer communities.
    Any other model, I’m afraid, still enable the gangs to profit. As long as there is a market to beat, then beat it they shall. Selling cheaper product, and continuing to push the more profitable drugs down our throats.
    Yes. It’s all or nothing. We need to embrace the lion.


  19. Anonymous on

    I think if people are allowed to grow, say 6 plants like in CO, they should pay a 5$/plant tax (or minimal amount like that) – please take my word for it that this may be the first time I’ve ever advocated a new tax. I know this would be hard to enforce and basically based on the honor system. However, a provision as such would help satisfy what all the money hungry politicians want, tax revenue. It’s basically the need for cash that has the ball rolling in the decriminalization direction in the first place so give them what they want to help our chances of getting what we want.