An increasing majority of people living in B.C.'s northern interior support legalizing marijuana, according to a poll released Thursday.
Some 92 per cent of respondents either strongly or moderately agreed that chasing and arresting marijuana producers and sellers is ineffective and it would be better to tax and regulate its use, up from 68 per cent when the same question was asked last year.
The poll was conducted by the Angus Reid polling company on behalf of Stop the Violence B.C., an advocacy group that claims three former B.C. Attorneys General and three former Vancouver mayors among its members.
For the province as a whole, the figure was 74 per cent in agreement, up five percentage points from 2011.
Stop the Violence B.C. member Dr. Evan Wood said that not only do three-quarters of British Columbians support legalization but Washington State voters will consider a proposition to legalize marijuana when they head to the polls on Tuesday.
"If Washington State votes to tax and regulate the adult use of marijuana, I think it will really drive discussion here and we can get into the technical details of what we can do," he said.
Although the federal government is responsible for the Criminal Code, Wood suggested the push to legalize could begin at the provincial level.
"The premier could ask for a legal exemption to pilot something like this," Wood said. "I don't think anyone is saying we should turn the policy of prohibition on its head and go willy-nilly about a legalized approach without any controls."
"The question is how strictly can you regulate this market without an organized crime, illegal market persisting."
Wood is a medical doctor who joined Stop the Violence B.C. after treating three gang-related shooting victims in the five nights he worked over one month in 2009 at Vancouver General Hospital.
Asked if crime organizations will simply move onto something else, like cocaine, Wood said marijuana amounts to a $7-billion per year cash cow for the gangs, who then use the money to import cocaine and guns into Canada.
"By taking that cash cow away, they have to go to less lucrative industries and areas which are less able to evade police," Wood said. "That's what happened when alcohol prohibition ended and a lot of people had to find regular-paying work."
In all, 799 people were polled across the province and, for that sample, the margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The number of people polled in the northern interior and the margin of error for the region was not available.
Justice Minister and Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond was in transit Thursday but a spokesperson said she will be able to provide comment today. Similarly, Cariboo-Prince George Conservative MP Dick Harris could not be reached Thursday but will be available today, staff in his Ottawa office said.