An organizer of a petition drive to decriminalize marijuana in B.C. remains confident enough signatures will be collected locally to help force a referendum on the issue, although some changes in strategy are being implemented as the campaign passes the halfway mark.
Levi Neudorf wants to collect more than 3,500 signatures in Prince George-Valemount and 3,200 in Prince George-Mackenzie by the time the deadline has passed on Dec. 5.
As of this week, Neudorf has about 1,000 signatures in hand between the two constituencies but has also told canvassers to wait until their petition sheets are filled up before turning them over.
He is also encouraging each of the 130 people who have volunteered to be canvassers to pace themselves and collect two signatures a day, not that he is stopping them from gathering more.
"That'll meet our goal at this point," Neudorf said. "Lots of people procrastinated and waited until the last minute so what we're doing is we're calling each individual canvasser and seeing where they're at and we're looking really optimistic for the future."
As well, the roughly 2,000 people who signed a petition before the campaign began are being contacted to once again provide their signatures during the 90-day window, which started Sept. 9.
The goal is to collect signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in each electoral district but Neudorf is aiming for 15 per cent just to be sure.
If successful, the drive will trigger a referendum by as soon as September 2014 on whether to direct all police in the province - both RCMP and municipal forces - to not take any action in cases of simple marijuana possession by adults.
The effort is being spearheaded by Sensible B.C., led by Vancouver-based marijuana legalization advocate Dana Larsen. Although marijuana is prohibited under federal legislation, Larsen asserts the provinces can direct the use of police resources.
If the campaign clears all the hurdles, including ratification by the provincial legislature, it would also require B.C.'s attorney general to call on the federal health minister to either change the laws surrounding marijuana or give B.C. an exemption.
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.
The support for the petition is not as upbeat in neighbouring Nechako-Lakes.
"We're struggling," said that constituency's lead organizer, Mary Phillips. About 300 people, mostly in Fort St. James and a few in Burns Lake, have put their names to the petition, well below the goal of 1,600 to 2,400 signatures. A lack of canvassers in Vanderhoof and Houston has slowed the progress, she said.
In Prince George, petitions are available for signing at Zaga's in Parkwood Mall and at Unique Realm of Rocks and Gems in Massey Square, on Massey Drive just off Ospika Boulevard. More information can be found at sensiblebc.ca.