Canvassers will be collecting signatures for a provincewide drive with the goal of a referendum for the decriminalization of cannabis when Sensible BC kicks off a 90-day campaign on Sept. 9.
As with the 2011 campaign that led to the repeal of the harmonized sales tax in April, signatures from 10 per cent of eligible voters in each of B.C.’s 85 electoral districts are required to have a referendum.
Nearly a dozen volunteers are gearing up in the Creston half of the Nelson-Creston riding. With no plans to go door-to-door, they will be setting up tables around town to provide information and gather signatures.
“We don’t want to cause trouble,” said local volunteer co-ordinator Marc Archambault. “We want to be respectful.”
Sensible BC is a movement started by Dana Larsen, a cannabis legalization activist and founding member of both the Marijuana Party of Canada and the BC Marijuana Party; he resigned from both in 2003 to join the New Democratic Party.
The goal of the referendum would be to approve a proposed “sensible policing act”, which would, according to campaign information, “redirect all B.C. police from searching, seizing or arresting adults for simple possession of cannabis. … Under the new law, a minor found in unlawful possession of cannabis would be treated the same as if it were alcohol.”
“This campaign is really about not making criminals out of responsible adults,” said Archambault. “Marijuana doesn’t ruin people’s lives, prosecution for possession does. You get people around here who can’t walk dogs for PAWS (Pet Adoption and Welfare Society) because they were charged with possession 20 years ago.”
In addition to the lasting impact for an individual, prosecution affects all taxpayers, with $1.3 billion being spent annually on police and court costs, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
“It’s a waste of resources,” Archambault said.
Federal polls currently show that support for decriminalization and/or legalization is just under 70 per cent, Archambault said.
But even with the support of people like Kash Heed and federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — “Justin Trudeau really raised the bar on this when he came out as having smoked weed,” said Archambault — people are still leery of the stigma associated with cannabis.
“Some people won’t volunteer because they say they’re afraid their employers will subject them to random drug tests,” said Archambault.
But the key to change, he said, is letting people know that the campaign is about others, not their own preferences.
“You don’t have to use it or even like it,” he said. “This is about not making criminals out of your family and friends.”