WILL WE GO TO POT?
Activist begins ‘daunting’ task of collecting 40,000 signatures
Being given the go-ahead to gather signatures for a pot referendum was like the starter’s gun going off.
Now, Sensible B.C. faces something akin to one of those days-long, 200-kilometre desert foot races.
“Incredibly daunting, that’s a good word,” Dana Larsen, director of the group that’s pushing for a referendum on pot possession, said Wednesday. “There’s no guarantee we’ll have success ... but I’m more confident than I was when we started this process over a year ago.”
To have any hope of holding a referendum on its proposed Sensible Policing Act, about 40,000 signatures must be collected, representing 10 per cent of registered voters in each and every provincial riding.
If that step is successful, a referendum would be held in 2014. To win that, Sensible B.C. would need yes votes from not only a majority of the turnout across the province, but also a majority in two-thirds of B.C.’s 85 ridings.
There’s a 90-day period to gather signatures, beginning Sept. 9, so Larsen is visiting as many ridings as he can before then and will continue stumping into October.
“You need a lot of canvassers and you need them in every riding,” said Bill Tieleman, a political commentator and president of West Star Communications.
Tieleman was involved in a similar initiative in 2010 when his FightHST group spearheaded a campaign under the Recall and Initiatives Act to repeal the Harmonized Sales Tax.
“We came within 600 signatures of losing the whole thing, based on one of the Abbotsford ridings,” he said.
In the end, the anti-HST campaign won roughly 55 per cent of the popular vote and 70 per cent of the ridings, and the HST was repealed.
Sensible B.C. says 70 per cent of B.C.ers polled are in favour of liberalizing pot-possession laws.
A study the group commissioned earlier this year reported that B.C. taxpayers spend just under $9,000 per conviction for simple pot possession and that only about seven per cent of all police reports of possession result in convictions.
Yet, the same study reported, RCMP detachments in B.C. more than doubled the number of simple-possession charges they laid between 2006 and 2011.
The issue isn’t partisan, Larsen said: “This is not an attack on the Liberal government, they didn’t create prohibition.” The anti-HST movement, on the other hand, was very much a pointed attack against the Liberals.
Larsen granted that being pro-pot has more stigma attached than being anti-tax. And that may be the biggest hurdle the policing act will face, expremier and anti-HST crusader Bill Vander Zalm said.
“It’s such a tough, tough task,” Vander Zalm said. “And it will be especially tough on this issue because people are more divided than they were on HST.
“But . . . we need to have this issue addressed. Marijuana is pretty common with people these days and it gets to people illegally. A practical mind would say get it to people legally and collect taxes.”
That’s a long way off. The policing act, if it ever was passed by the legislature, would only direct police away from laying simple-possession charges. That’s something people like Kash Heed, a former solicitor-general and a member of Stop the Violence B.C., feels is a shortcoming.
“I support what they are doing, but it won’t deal with ... the regulation and taxation part of it — to take money away from organized crime . . . and put it back into badly needed programs around prevention and education,” Heed said.
But until federal laws are changed, things will remain status quo, said Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton.
“Even if the group is successful in collecting enough signatures for the petition, the outcome would be uncertain,” she said. “Our position is that until and unless Canadian federal law is changed, the production, sale and use of marijuana is currently prohibited, except in the case of specific exceptions such as medicinal marijuana.”
Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C, hopes to collect enough signatures to force a provincewide pot referendum in 2014.
Sensible B.C.’s Dana Larsen will canvass for a referendum that directs police away from laying simple pot-possession charges. Larsen stands outside a cannabis dispensary in the 800-block East Hastings Street on Thursday.