David Bratzer is unlike other canvassers in the ongoing initiative campaign to decriminalize marijuana in B.C.
Depending on the time and day, he could be asking someone on the street to support the petition or possibly slapping the cuffs on another for pot possession.
Bratzer is a Vancouver Island Capital Regional District police officer who believes that drug prohibition is wrong.
“When I’m on duty, I’ve always been clear that I will enforce the law as it stands,” Bratzer told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I’ve sworn an oath to uphold the law.”
But after the uniform comes off, the constable aims to sign up about 1,000 people during the 90-day signature drive that started Monday (September 9).
Because of his job, there may be occasions when the 36-year-old cop has to arrest people for drug offences. “But when I’m off duty, I advocate to change these failed policies around cannabis prohibition,” said Bratzer, who is also the president of the Canadian chapter of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
LEAP is an international organization of active and retired professionals in the criminal-justice system that calls for an end to the so-called war on drugs. It supports the initiative spearheaded by pot activist and Sensible B.C. spokesperson Dana Larsen.
As far as Bratzer knows, he’s the only cop who is a registered canvasser in the campaign to amend provincial law so people will no longer be busted for simple marijuana possession. It’s a role that he said he’s “comfortable” in because even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is now seeking changes in the enforcement of cannabis laws.
At its annual meeting last August, the association, led by president and Vancouver Police Department chief Jim Chu, proposed ticketing and fining people with small amounts of marijuana as an alternative to either looking the other way or laying criminal charges that will only burden the courts.
It’s an idea that former police officer Kash Heed brought up in November 2001. When he appeared then before a Senate committee on illegal drugs as an inspector with the Vancouver police service’s vice and drugs section he talked about “limited prohibition with civil penalties”.
In an interview on September 9, Heed expressed some irritation that it has taken police chiefs such a long time to catch up. “This is going back 12 years ago,” Heed told the Straight by phone. He recalled that the failure of prohibition was recognized decades earlier, in the 1970s, by a federal commission of inquiry into drugs that was chaired by law dean Gerald Le Dain.
“What irks me a little bit is you have these chiefs coming out and saying they’ve got this innovative way to deal with the marijuana situation,” Heed said. “Well, come on. All they had to do was go back…and look up what Le Dain said. Le Dain came out and said our policies are failing.”
Following a long career in policing, Heed entered politics in 2009 and served as a controversial one-term Vancouver MLA.
Heed, as someone who preceded Bratzer in his cause, knows the kind of pressure brought to bear on a police officer who speaks on marijuana policy. “You’ve got to have a thick skin because you’re actually going against the culture,” Heed, a sessional SFU criminology instructor, said. “You’re going against, most likely, the chief of the department. You’re going against many people within the department. The people that do support you are silent on the matter because they fear that their careers will be limited.”
Bratzer, a family man with a young child, is in his eighth year wearing a badge. His two brothers are also police officers.
“Being a police officer who advocates for legalizing and regulating drugs, it can bring some challenges at times with my career, and so it’s a balancing act,” he said.
Bratzer works four shifts and gets three days off a week. He figures that if he can gather an average of more than 10 signatures a day, his goal of signing up 1,000 people by December 5 is doable.