When I launched Sensible BC back in September 2012, it seemed like a long shot to think we could succeed in a campaign for a provincial marijuana referendum. But we have had incredible success and good luck since then, and now we are within reach of getting the signatures we need to force a vote on decriminalization right here in British Columbia.
The Sensible Policing Act
The Sensible BC campaign is centred around our proposed legislation, called the Sensible Policing Act. This law does four specific things, all of which are within provincial jurisdiction.
The first thing our law does is to amend the Police Act, which is what gives authority for all policing in our province. The amendment instructs all BC police (including RCMP) to make simple possession of marijuana their lowest priority, so that no time or resources are spent on searching or arresting anyone for pot possession.
This form of effective decriminalization is fully within provincial jurisdiction, and indeed there are already many laws which are already ignored by police in a similar manner. For example, BC and seven other provinces adopted this kind of policy to effectively decriminalize possession of an unregistered long gun back in 2003.
Vancouver has already enacted a policy in line with Sensible BC, so that virtually no charges are laid for simple possession in the city. But across BC, charges for pot possession have doubled over the past six years, and are far higher than any other province. BC police made over 16,500 arrests for marijuana possession last year, and this legislation would redirect those police resources towards substantial violent crimes.
The second aspect of the Sensible Policing Act is to amend the Liquor Control Act, so that a minor in possession of marijuana is treated the same as if it were alcohol. This allows a police officer to seize marijuana from a minor, but there would be no arrest or criminalization.
Third, the Sensible Policing Act formally calls upon the federal government to repeal marijuana prohibition, by removing it from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or by giving the province of BC an exemption from the federal prohibition so that we can experiment with a regulated system at the provincial level.
Finally, the law would set up a provincial commission, to study the issue and come up with a system to regulate the legal production and sale of marijuana products in BC. Once marijuana prohibition is repealed, regulation will fall primarily to the provinces, just like alcohol and tobacco. We can look at developments in Washington and Colorado to help guide our model here.
Whatever happens with this campaign, one thing should now be certain: BC has the power to effectively decriminalize marijuana possession. Our legislation has been studied by the legal team at Elections BC, who have determined that it is within BC jurisdiction and suitable for a referendum.
Provincial politicians should no longer be allowed to skirt this issue by declaring marijuana policy to be solely federal jurisdiction. BC pays for the courts, the police and the prisons and we also pay for the social costs of marijuana prohibition. We have the legal power to make some positive changes on this issue, and we need some BC politicians to show leadership and make this happen.
Growing support and good fortune
Shortly after we launched Sensible BC last September, the BC Union of Municipalities voted to support decriminalization of marijuana. Then a few weeks later, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana at the state level, while Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana.
A few weeks after that, we had an incredible stroke of good fortune when marijuana enthusiast and activist Bob Erb in Terrace won millions in the lottery and pledged to put some of his newfound wealth into marijuana legalization.
Erb has since made substantial contributions to Sensible BC, and is also matching all the donations we receive!
We've also enjoyed great support from the media, with editorial endorsements from the Vancouver Sun, the Province and Black Press, as well as a feature article in Macleans Magazine and generous TV coverage.
Yet despite all of this, we still face substantial challenges ahead. Collecting a half million signatures in 90 days is a huge logistical challenge, requiring thousands of volunteers to get involved!
Join us on the campaign trail
On September 9, we began the 90 days of official signature-gathering. We launched the CannaBus, which serves as a mobile office, billboard and sign-up station. We also have offices in Vancouver and Victoria.
We're still taking on new canvassers, and we've seen our numbers grow steadily. We have almost 3000 registered canvassers now, with dozens more signing up every day. Some of them will just be collecting a few signatures from their friends and family, while others are out there seven days a week, collecting signatures at farmer's markets, Skytrain stations and by going door to door.
We have had some challenges. Tim Hortons told us to stop promoting that we're having meetings in their cafes, and Transit Police were unlawfully trying to kick our canvassers out of Skytrain stations. Yet overall, these are isolated incidents, and for the most part the campaign is going smoothly.
We still need your help!
If you would like to see a sensible marijuana policy in British Columbia, then join our campaign! You can still register to help collect signatures, and there's all kinds of other volunteer work that needs doing too.
This is a unique opportunity for us to get this issue on the ballot and have a public vote to decriminalize marijuana. Whether you can collect ten signatures, or a thousand, the first step is to register as a canvasser.
We only have about eight weeks left to collect signatures, so don't delay and get your canvasser registration form in today!
Dana Larsen is Director the Sensible BC campaign, and Director of the Vancouver Cannabis Dispensary.