A marijuana legalization activist was in Prince George on Friday to promote his campaign to hold a provincial referendum on the issue.
Dana Larsen heads Sensible B.C., which has drafted a proposed amendment to B.C's Police Act that would direct all police in the province - both RCMP and municipal forces - to not take any action in cases of simple marijuana possession by adults.
Although marijuana is prohibited under federal legislation, Larsen asserts the provinces can direct the use of police resources and noted eight provinces across Canada refused to enforce the long-gun registry.
"This is why the provinces have jurisdiction over policing, to create that tension with the federal government," Larsen argued. "They create the laws but the provinces have the power to enforce them and that creates a jurisdictional tension which is part of our system, it's designed like that."
There is a second aspect to Larsen's proposal. It would require B.C.'s Attorney General to call on the federal Health Minister to either change the laws surrounding marijuana or give this province an exemption. The move can happen without even going to Parliament, Larsen claimed.
"He can just do it as an administrative act if he chooses, the way their laws are written," Larsen said.
The idea would be to put marijuana on the same level as alcohol and tobacco. Larsen favours a system modeled on the one used for wine and beer to regulate marijuana, which would allow for limited amounts to be grown at home and independent growers to set up business on larger scales but where the government remains the primary wholesaler.
"It's limited and licenced but also open for anyone who wants to get involved," Larsen said.
But that's several steps down the line.
First, Larsen needs to sign up canvassers who, in turn, would collect enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum. Supporters would have three months to accumulate signatures from at least 10 per cent of the electorate in each of B.C.'s provincial constituencies and Larsen wants to get that effort up and running by September 2013.
If that hurdle is cleared, provincial laws dictated that the next date for a referendum would be in September 2014. And although the federal Conservative party is adamantly opposed to legalization, Larsen said the next federal election must be held by September 2015 and the Liberals and NDP are more friendly to lifting the prohibition.
Three-quarters of respondents to a recent poll of 799 British Columbians indicated they favoured legalization as a way to reduce gang violence and policing, court and corrections costs and Larsen contended there is more support for the move than there was opposition to the harmonized sales tax, defeated in the August 2011 referendum.
It's just a matter of getting the boots on the ground.
"That's the big challenge," Larsen said. "It's going to be getting people to go out there, talking to their friends, knocking on doors."
He said a team of recruiters is being assembled and trained in Vancouver and they will be sent out to communities across B.C. to organize in each constituency. About 5,000 signatures will be needed in each riding, Larsen estimates, although Elections B.C. will provide more precise figures in the months to come.
Since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa, charges for marijuana possession have been on a drastic rise, more than doubling between 2005 and 2010 and are still increasing, according to Larsen.
But he believes the momentum is in favour of legalization, particularly with voters in Washington State and Colorado voting in favour on Tuesday. They're in addition to 18 American states where there is access for medical purposes, Larsen noted.
"America has no moral authority to impose their own drug war on other countries when their own states and their own people are rejecting it from within," Larsen said.
A half-dozen people showed up for Larsen's noontime pitch at UNBC and he was also to host a meeting later the same day at the Aquatic Centre.
"This is just the first wave to get the sort of hardcore people out there to build up our base in various communities," Larsen said. "We're going to be coming back in March with a bigger tour."
The wording of the amendment, called the Sensible Policing Act, was drafted with the help of a lawyer and lawyers at Elections B.C. have confirmed that this legislation is within provincial jurisdiction and suitable for a referendum, Larsen said.
More information can be found at www.SensibleBC.ca.