Elections B.C. okays petition seeking referendum on marijuana decriminalization
Elections B.C. says an initiative seeking a referendum on the decriminalization of marijuana in the province is good to go.
The electoral agency announced today (September 20) it will issue the petition to proponent Dana Larsen on November 19.
However, Larsen told the Straight his campaign, called Sensible B.C., won’t be gathering signatures this fall and winter. Instead, the campaign plans to re-file the petition application next year and canvass for signatures beginning in September 2013.
According to Larsen, filing the petition application as a test run has given the campaign a “head start” on next year’s initiative.
“It means that British Columbia can decriminalize cannabis,” Larsen, a founding director of the Vancouver Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary and former B.C. NDP leadership candidate, said by phone of Elections B.C.’s approval in principle. “It means that Elections B.C. has confirmed that we have jurisdiction over policing, and that it is appropriate and legal for British Columbia to instruct the police in our province to make cannabis possession the absolute lowest priority and to stop spending their time and money going after cannabis users. I think that’s a very important step for our campaign.”
Called “An initiative to amend the Police Act”, the petition proposes legislation that would see marijuana possession decriminalized for adults. The draft Sensible Policing Act would also see the province formally call on the federal government to allow B.C. to begin legally taxing and regulating marijuana much like alcohol and tobacco.
When the petition campaign kicks off next fall, it will need to collect around 400,000 signatures from voters around the province in 90 days to be successful. That would force the B.C. government to look at holding a provincewide vote under the Recall and Initiative Act in 2014.
Larsen called the decriminalization and then legalization of marijuana a “good idea whose time has come”.
“The vast majority of British Columbians want to see a change to the cannabis laws,” Larsen said. “Whether or not they use it themselves, I think most people recognize that the harms of prohibition are far greater than any harms that might come from cannabis itself.”
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, former NDP premiers Mike Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh, and former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant are among the past and present politicians who have endorsed calls for the taxation and regulation of marijuana.
“Every year since [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s been in power basically, cannabis-possession charges have gone up in B.C.,” Larsen said. “We would like to see the discretion used the other way—to see these charges dropped. It’s a big waste of money. It ruins the lives of people who end up with a criminal record and end up with this lifelong penalty for cannabis use. The best way to reduce cannabis use and make it safer is under a regulated and taxed environment.”