A group crusading for the decriminalization of marijuana stopped in the Peace Region to raise awareness of the cause.
Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C., spoke to supporters about the campaign he is running to have the province adopt the Sensible Policing Act. This legislation would stop police from arresting people for possession of marijuana.
“We want to legalize all aspects of the cannabis industry and bring it forward into a regulated system,” explained Larsen.
Larsen believes that it’s important that he visits all the regions in British Columbia, including the Peace Region.
“For this campaign to succeed we need the support of people in every electoral district in British Columbia, and if we miss just one of those districts, we will fail at our chances for a referendum. I think I have to come everywhere and this is a very important spot in terms of gaining support,” Larsen said.
Both Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier and Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman voted against a motion at the meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to decriminalize marijuana.
“A lot more needs to be addressed prior to decriminalization,” said Ackerman in a previous interview.
“How do we know how to deal with any social impact (that could arise)?”
Bernier was also vocally against the motion.
“It’s not the right time to do so,” he said at the time. “Some of the debate has been around legalizing it would shut down grow ops – no, it wouldn’t.”
Bernier said that he believed many grow-ops would continue to sell their wares illegally to customers in the U.S., even if the drug were decriminalized in B.C.
Larsen’s campaign is based around the idea of decriminalizing the possession of pot but he says this isn’t his end game.
“Our legislative starts off with just decriminalizing the position, but that’s just the first step and we intend to go further than that to actually pass and regulate cannabis at the provincial level,” he said.
In Larsen’s vision, this would give those who are currently selling marijuana illegally the chance to become part of the business legitimately.
“People who are growing cannabis now would be able to participate in the legal aboveground industry and come aboard.”
He sees the legalized pot industry looking a lot like the current wine industry.
“I visualize legal cannabis being similar to the modern wine industry, where people can produce it in their own home for themselves and their friends or they can open up a winery and sell it to others. That’s the kind of model we see for cannabis,” explained Larsen.
Local RCMP are currently fighting against marijuana and local grow-ops.
“We do receive tips on grow-ops that we actively follow-up on. We also follow up on any tips with respect to trafficking in those substances as well,” said Sgt. Scott West.
According to Larsen he is not alone in his thoughts that cannabis should not be considered illegal or criminal.
“Eighty per cent of people in British Columbia think that possession of cannabis shouldn’t be a criminal offense,” he said.
Larsen believes that decriminalizing marijuana would benefit the Peace Region because the justice system would not waste manpower and resources on charging people with possession.
“Well it would save the police a lot of time and money,” he said.
A report released in October from the B.C. Ministry of Justice, shows that possession charges increased by 88 per cent over the last decade, from 2,004 charges in 2002 to 3,774 charges in 2011.
This year, 31 drivers who were impaired by drugs were stopped and taken off the road by the RCMP in Dawson Creek.
However, legalizing marijuana is not just as simple as stopping arrests for possession.
“The Criminal Code would have to catch up to the decriminalization in terms of driving laws... and how police officers would have to enforce those laws,” said West.
According to Larsen, if marijuana was decriminalized than it would give the police the opportunity to focus on substantive crimes and not waste their time busting pot smokers.
And Larsen is not alone in his way of thinking.
Recently two states – Washington and Colorado – voted to legalize possession for up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use at the state level.
“I think this is very good for our movement. It’s very important for the worldwide effort to end the global war on cannabis. America is really the heart of that war. They’re the nation that promotes their global war on cannabis to other countries around the world and now it’s starting to crumble from within,” said Larsen.
He also noted that this is particularly important for Canada because it’s very similar to what Larsen and his supporters are trying to do with the sensible policing act.
“Their law in Washington legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis right away, so that comes into play in December when all the initiative laws come into play. Any adults in Washington will be able to posses up to an ounce of cannabis with no fear of anything at all,” explained Larsen.
Larsen says this is a positive thing because it’s the same process that he is currently trying to get going in B.C.
“It sets a great example for us here, and gives us hope as to what can be done when citizens get together and write their own laws and use the democratic tools they have to make them come into play.”