Documents show B.C. Ministry of Justice determined to stay out of marijuana debate

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      Prominent marijuana activist Dana Larsen says documents released in response to a freedom-of-information request show the government of British Columbia is bending over backward to avoid taking positions on issues related to cannabis.

      In 83 pages of issue notes and government correspondence—many of which were withheld or redacted—B.C. Ministry of Justice officials repeatedly state that marijuana is none of the province’s business.

      “The legislative responsibility for controlled drugs and substances, including marijuana, lies with the federal government,” reads one line that appears frequently with slight variations.

      “If medical marijuana businesses, including dispensaries, are operating contrary to municipal bylaw, it is up to the municipality to deal with any contraventions,” reads another typical talking point.

      (The Ministry of Justice refused to grant an interview. An emailed statement repeats the same lines.)

      Larsen described those positions as disingenuous. He maintained there is plenty the provincial government can do to take B.C. down a road toward decriminalization.

      Larsen noted he’s so sure of it that, in 2013, he dedicated a year of his life to that very goal. The Sensible B.C. campaign, as it was known, ultimately failed to gather the 10 percent of voters’ signatures required to put the issue to a referendum. But Larsen said his proposal to decriminalize marijuana via an amendment to the B.C. Police Act remains an option.

      “Policing is a provincial jurisdiction,” he argued. “The provinces are supposed to have a mandate to set priorities for the police. There is no question the attorney general could order police to make marijuana possession a very low priority, to effectively decriminalize it.

      In a separate interview, Kash Heed, former B.C. minister of public safety and solicitor general, disagreed with Larsen’s suggestion of how the province should act on marijuana. But he agreed that it can indeed act.

      “The director of police services could send a memorandum to every police agency operating in the province of British Columbia to exercise discretion when it comes to marijuana,” he offered as an example.

      Heed suggested the reason the Liberal government has avoided the issue is because its members remain divided on cannabis. “There is unfortunately no political win, in their opinion, for them to come out and support this,” he said. “But there is an avenue.”

      Larsen emphasized that despite the proliferation of cannabis storefronts in Vancouver, the drug is still getting people in trouble with police.

      According to the Vancouver Police Department’s 2013 annual report, the force recorded 1,048 offences related to cannabis, up from 864 in 2012.

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      Aug 19, 2015 at 1:31pm

      A couple of points.

      First, on police discretion. An office, like constable or judge or pope, is granted to someone that it be duly used, and may be forfeit for abuse or nonuser. Where some discretion may exist is for things like jaywalking and other municipal bylaws. I have never seen any indication in law that police officers have "discretion" to look the other way on criminal charges. If this power exists, where does it end? Could a police chief tell his officers to look the other way on robbery? How about murder? How about criminal offences concerning nuclear materials or civil aviation? Surely there are some classes of offenses where it couldn't be done. So, there is that.

      Second point, if drug scheduling is a federal matter, and only a federal matter, why do our pharmacists have drug schedules enacted on a provincial level? Most drugs, in fact, aren't scheduled federally; for example, the control on Grandma's blood pressure medication isn't a function of federal law, in specific, it is a function of such being scheduled under a regulation annexed to our Pharmacy College.

      So, in a big way, I find this whole issue to have a tweedle-dee (government) and tweedle-dum (Heed, Larsen, etc.) taste to it. Nobody really understands our drug policy and how it fits together, and nobody, apparently, really wants to challenge that idea that the POGG clause in the constitution does not give the federal government license to control activities that the province has historically exercised itself over. Federal drug laws are an unconstitutional anomaly; drug law has always been a provincial matter and should remain such, so that we can avoid the errors that federalization obviously introduces: it is much harder to corrupt several different provinces and territories than one central federal legislature. It's called redundancy, people!

      SAM Canada

      Aug 20, 2015 at 8:46am

      If the BC Government is not willing to support the enforcement of the Criminal Code of Canada they should be very clear on what grounds they are taking that position. Representatives of the Ministry of Health and Coastal Health have had much to say over the illegal dispensaries and one could also make the case that they have had influence over what has happened in regards to regulating dispensaries. The City of Vanouver's recent move to license illegal businesses could be challenged under the Vancouver Charter and the Attorney General could step in to the conversation and challenge what they are doing. The Vancouver Police are charged with upholding the laws of the country and if they do not do their jobs then the RCMP could step in. It is not their role to arbitrate to outright not uphold the criminal code. They are not elected but rather paid by the citizens of Canada and they have a job to do and they need to do it. There is a complaint against the police for failure to act that will be heard in September. Other jurisdictions have seen law enforcement uphold the laws of Canada and we should expect no less from Vancouver and the folks running BC. Dr. Perry Kendall and Minister Terry Lake have come to the conversation and their influence on public opinion should not be ignored. The one thing the BC Government seems to have right is that drug policy is a federal jurisdiction and the City of Vancouver has no business offering licenses to these illegal operations.