An activist pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana in British Columbia has received permission from Elections B.C. To launch a province-wide petition.
On Thursday, July 11, Dana Larsen got the go-ahead to use the province’s unique initiative legislation to propose a law that would decriminalize pot by preventing police from enforcing simple possession laws. Larsen and his Sensible BC campaign two months to sign up canvassers and prepare to start collecting signatures on Sept. 9.
Larsen has immediately started touring the province to get a team in place, and was in Cranbrook Thursday evening, where he took some time to speak to the Daily Townsman.
“This is definitely an issue whose time has come,” Larsen said. “But it is very challenging to get all the signatures we need to get on the ballot. We’ve been working on this for several months now, in terms of building support, getting awareness out there. We’ve got a lot of people who are very excited about this and want to make a difference, and we’ll just have to see if we can get over the top and get the 400,000-odd signatures that we need.
To succeed, Larsen must collect the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 85 ridings by November. That would either force a vote in the legislature or a provincewide, non-binding referendum.
“It’s a very difficult challenge,” Larsen said. “We only have 90 days to collect those signatures, and we start that clock on September 9. So between now and then our main focus is to pre-register canvassers, so that we have a lot of canvassers in place to collect those signatures when the time comes.”
B.C.’s initiative legislation, which was successfully used to kill the province’s harmonized sales tax two years ago, allows any voter to bring forward proposed legislation in the form of a petition.
Larsen is expecting a broad cross-section of society to support this one.
“A lot of our volunteers don’t use marijuana, they’re people who just care about this issue,” he said. “They may not happen to use it themselves. We do have a challenge — some people feel stigmatized, and are afraid to come out — they might lose their job or have issues if they support this cause, which is really unfortunate for a political cause to have some of that stigma attached to it.
“There are a lot of British Columbians who are excited about this,” Larsen continued. “We’ve got several thousand people who say they want to volunteer. We’ve got a broad base of widespread support. Our polling shows that even a majority of Conservative Party voters in British Columbia support the provisions of our legislation, so our challenge is really an organizational one.”
Larsen agrees that recent events in the United States have fuelled the current conversation in Canada.
“The votes to legalize in Washington and Colorado through a very similar ballot initiative, a referendum process, is very inspiring to us,” he said. “Seventeen other American states have legalized medical marijuana in the same way, through public referendums, and although this issue has broad support in B.C., our political leaders don’t seem willing to tackle it. That’s what the referendum system is for. We do have broad support for this. So we’ll just have to see how it unfolds.”
Larsen’s current tour, including the stop in Cranbrook, is just to get the volunteers and mechanics of the initiative in place.
“The HST campaign had about about 6,000 registered canvassers. We figure we’re going to need somewhere in the same amount to really get this thing going. So we’re inviting people to fill out the form, get registered as a canvasser now, so when September 9 comes you got the big army built and can really hit the ground running and make this thing a success.”
Changes to provincial and federal marijuana laws would be a economic boon, Larsen says.
“We would save $10.5 million a year to begin with, just if we stopped arresting people and charging them for marijuana possession. And then further, we could easily bring in several hundred million dollars a year through some kind of a legally regulated and taxed marijuana system. Our initiative is to decriminalize possession. That’s something the province can do, but we’re also calling on the federal government to repeal marijuana prohibition so that B.C. can implement some kind of a regulation system — something similar to what we have now for alcohol and tobacco.”
If a petition collects enough valid signatures, it is then sent to a legislative committee — which, in this case, would be dominated by the governing Liberal party.
The committee can either send the petition directly to the legislature for consideration or ask Elections BC to hold a provincewide referendum, which would require both a majority of voters across the province to approve the proposal, as well as majorities in two-thirds of the province’s ridings.
Larsen said anyone who wants to help out and become a canvasser, or who is looking for more information should visit the website at sensiblebc.ca.