Petition initiative on pot approved
VANCOUVER—One of British Columbia’s leading marijuana advocates says he’s going to raise an army of well-trained, disciplined volunteers for his effort to decriminalize possession and use of cannabis by adults.
Elections BC announced yesterday it has approved, in principle, an initiative petition filed by Dana Larsen, who ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of B.C.’s New Democrats.
It also asks the province to call upon the federal government to repeal marijuana prohibition laws or give B.C. an exemption.
Elections BC announced it will issue the petition Nov. 19, giving Larsen 90 days to collect the signatures of more than 10 percent of registered voters in each of B.C.’s 85 electoral districts.
However, Larsen said he won’t be gathering signatures this fall.
Instead, he’ll use the petition to generate attention and gather volunteers to find, train, excite, and mobilize “an army of well-trained disciplined signature gatherers.”
He said he will submit another application in September, 2013 and then begin the process of collecting signatures.
“It is a very difficult procedure, absolutely,” Larsen conceded in an interview. “It’s a big challenge.
“That’s why we’re doing it in this unique way of spending a year in advance to build support and build up our volunteer base.
“I am very confident that far more than 10 percent of the registered voters in every riding of the province support decriminalization of cannabis,” he added.
Attorney General and Justice minister Shirley Bond was unavailable for an interview, but said in a statement that she recognizes the initiative process is available to any registered voter in B.C.
“However, I have confidence that our Police Act currently meets our public safety responsibility to communities right across the province,” she noted.
She also said her government had no authority to make decisions on decriminalization.
“What it means is that unless Canadian law is changed, the production, sale, and use of marijuana is currently illegal and controlled by federal legislation and our police have a responsibility to enforce the Criminal Code.”
Peter Lepine, chief constable of the West Vancouver Police Department and president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, declined to comment on the politics behind the bill.
“At the end of the day from a policing perspective, we’re tasked with enforcing the laws as the laws are written,” he explained.
Larsen said many British Columbians recognize police resources could be better spent on “serious criminal offences,” and many want to see cannabis laws reformed.
However, police are spending more time and resources on enforcing possession laws and charges have doubled between 2005 and 2010, Larsen noted.
Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, agreed with Larsen on the possession statistics, noting charges have jumped from 1,700 in 2005 to 3,500 in 2010 even though use hasn’t changed.
Boyd also said police report about 15,000 cases annually, but only 3,000 people are charged.
“So there is an enormous amount of discretion exercised,” he noted.