Travis Persaud, Contributor Ω
“We’re leaving a nightmare,” said Dana Larsen of his hope for the decriminalization of cannabis. No stranger to the world of cannabis advocacy, Larsen has focused his most recent efforts on decriminalization with his Sensible B.C. campaign. Larsen is touring B.C. to promote the campaign, stopping in Kamloops on Nov. 20.
Sensible B.C. has proposed what it calls the Sensible Policing Act, which would prevent the use of police resources to enforce cannabis possession laws. If the act is approved by a proposed referendum and becomes law, it would effectively decriminalize the substance. But regulation of cannabis falls under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning provincial governments do not have the power to outright decriminalize cannabis.
The redirection of police resources encompasses part one of the Act. Part two combats federal control of cannabis, calling on Ottawa to remove cannabis from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or provide B.C. with an exemption from the act in order to establish a regulatory system for the sale of cannabis.
For the act to become law it must go through the referendum system in B.C. The next referendum is slated for September 2014 but to get on the ballot Sensible B.C. must collect signatures from 10 per cent of all registered voters in each of the province’s 85 ridings. Sensible B.C. has 90 days to collect the signatures it needs and will begin doing so in September 2013.
When asked about the resistance to the movement, Larsen said he feels the biggest opposition or difficulty the movement will have to overcome is organizing themselves, noting that the high threshold of signatures makes it seem as though the referendum system is “designed to fail.” He feels the long lead up promoting the act before next September is crucial to Sensible B.C.’s success in getting the act on the ballot.
“Winning the referendum will be the easy part,” Larsen told a supportive crowd gathered at Desert Gardens on Seymour Street, downtown Kamloops.
In his presentation Larsen dispelled any notion that B.C. is an overly pot-friendly province. According to the B.C. Ministry of Justice, 61 per cent of 2011 drug-related offences were for cannabis possession. Additionally, Statistics Canada noted that B.C. had the highest rate of cannabis offences among the provinces. Larsen told the audience since 2005 the number of cannabis charges in B.C. has increased. This rise in cannabis charges coincides with the Harper government coming to power in 2006, Larsen said. While he doesn’t believe the B.C. government has consciously upped the ante on cracking down on cannabis users, the police are responding to the anti-cannabis tone from Ottawa, which has passed legislation like March 2012’s Bill C-10 that sees drug offenders face mandatory minimum sentences.
“The only good thing about the mandatory minimum is the backlash,” Larsen said, speaking to the outrage he hopes the sentences will create.
The campaign operates under the slogan “Decriminalize for a safer province.” Larsen supported the claim by telling the audience that directing police and court resources away from cannabis possession would give more time for the legal system to deal with “real crime.”
Citing presentations from Stop the Violence B.C., an organization concerned with the link between cannabis prohibition and violence stemming from organized crime, Larsen explained the majority of the cannabis industry is not violent, emphasizing that “the more you crack down, the more violent it gets.”
Dan Werb, a researcher for Stop the Violence B.C. and co-founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, said decriminalization wouldn’t have an impact on organized crime.
“Decriminalization does nothing to impact the backend trafficking networks and those that control them,” he said.
In an interview before the Kamloops stop, Larsen said decriminalization would have less of an impact on organized crime, adding that to have an impact, measures surrounding cannabis must go further.
Among the attendees was Carl Anderson, who operated the Canadian Safe Cannabis Society in Kamloops until it was shut down by an RCMP raid in November 2011. When asked about the legal loophole that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to exist, Anderson said, “There isn’t a loop hole,” explaining that dispensaries are operated by those passionate about the issue who are willing to put themselves at risk for the greater good. Larsen offered further explanation saying the cannabis dispensaries “operate through the tolerance of their communities.”
Ultimately, the tone of the evening was an optimistic one. Those in attendance were ready to match Larsen’s call to action. The crowd was eager to embrace Larsen’s portrayal of a future generation that could simply not fathom a time when cannabis was illegal.
“That will be a happy day,” Larsen said of the day when he casts the vote to end the war on marijuana, stirring applause from the crowd.