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Editorial: Referendum needed on policing of marijuana in B.C.

By admin | November 15, 2012


At this point, no one needs to be told that the war on marijuana has been a dismal failure. Or almost no one.

After all, there is abundant evidence from around the world, and from right here in British Columbia, that marijuana prohibition has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. Indeed, as governments spent trillions — yes, trillions — of dollars prosecuting the war on drugs, marijuana use rates increased, with the potency of the drug increasing and its price decreasing.

And while failing to solve any problems, marijuana prohibition generated entirely new ones.

British Columbians are all too familiar with one of those problems: Gang warfare, as gangs compete for control of the extraordinarily lucrative marijuana market.

The evidence of the failure of marijuana prohibition is therefore abundant and compelling. So compelling, in fact, that an amazing array of individuals and organizations has called for an end to this failed experiment.

Illustrious individuals who support ending the war on marijuana include former B.C. Attorneys General Geoff Plant, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Colin Gabelmann, and former Vancouver mayors Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Philip Owen and Mike Harcourt, and current mayor Gregor Robertson.

And organizations that have registered their support for ending the war include the Union of BC Municipalities, the Health Officers Council of BC and Perry Kendall, B.C.’s Chief Medical Officer, the Canadian Public Health Association, academics and researchers with Stop the Violence BC, the law enforcement group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties, the B.C. New Democratic Party and many newspapers, including The Vancouver Sun.

Perhaps most important of all, the public has got the message: According to a survey conducted at the end of October, 75 per cent of B.C. respondents said they favour taxation and regulation of marijuana instead of prosecuting marijuana users. And only 14 per cent believe possession of marijuana should lead to a criminal record.

You could say, then, that ending marijuana prohibition is a no brainer. And yet, the very organization capable of doing so — the federal Conservative party — remains steadfast in its opposition to ending the war. In fact, the Conservatives favour mandatory prison sentences for non-violent marijuana offences — a move that will further play into the hands of organized crime, as it will scare away mom-and-pop outfits and leave more business for the gangsters.

And B.C. Premier Christy Clark has endorsed the federal Conservatives plans, and yet has never explained how it is she plans to reduce the violence associated with the marijuana trade and marijuana prohibition.

Clearly, then, we can’t expect our leaders to exercise leadership on this issue. Hence, much as Americans have been doing for some time — and as Washington state, our closest neighbour, just did last week by ending marijuana prohibition — we must take matters into our hands by holding a provincial referendum on the matter.

Although criminal law is a federal matter and therefore beyond the authority of the provinces, provinces are responsible for the administration of justice, including policing priorities. British Columbia can therefore amend its Police Act to direct police away from taking any action against individuals for marijuana possession, while treating underage marijuana possession the way we currently treat underage drinking.

In effect, this would amount to refusing to enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act when it comes to adult possession of marijuana, much as B.C. (and seven other provinces) refused to enforce the federal Firearms Act due to opposition to the Long Gun Registry.

The organization Sensible BC has drafted the Sensible Policing Act, which would amend the Police Act in the aforementioned way, and is calling on the government to pass the act. But it is also hoping for a provincial referendum on the issue, which would be held at the next provincial election in September 2014.

Yet to have a provincial vote on the matter, Sensible BC must get the signed support of 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding. If you care about the violence that has wracked our province and wish to help make B.C. safer, all you have to do is visit, and register at

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