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.