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Stop the Violence contends that regulating and taxing marijuana production and distribution would take the profits out of the hands of criminal gangs (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Stop the Violence contends that regulating and taxing marijuana production and distribution would take the profits out of the hands of criminal gangs (Ted S. Warren/AP)

CITY LIMITS

Marijuana reform high on electorate’s list Add to ...

Here’s something you won’t see happen on Saturday: Christy Clark or Adrian Dix’s campaign buses rolling up to the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery to the cheers of thousands of marijuana activists. Neither Mr. Dix nor Ms. Clark will push their way through the happy crowds and skunk-scented smoke, glad-handing potential voters. It is even less likely that either will make their way to the stage brandishing a freshly rolled spliff, spark it up and declare 4/20 officially “on.”

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Neither will inhale deeply, nor extol the virtues of weed, nor pass the dutchie to the left-hand side. And you certainly won’t hear them making speeches calling for the decriminalization, legalization, or the regulation and taxation of pot.

A pair of polls released this week suggests that the party leaders are lagging behind their constituents when it comes to attitudes about the decriminalization and eventual legalization of marijuana in B.C.

In fact, if the poll numbers are right, not driving the campaign buses on to the art gallery lawn with Bob Marley blaring from the speakers and waving marijuana-leaf flags out the windows might be something of a missed opportunity.

The first poll comes from the Sensible Change Society of B.C., a group headed by one-time federal NDP candidate Dana Larsen, who withdrew from the 2008 race after a video showing him with a mouthful of joints surfaced on the Web. Three years later, Mr. Larsen ran for the leadership of the BC NDP and won just 2.7 per cent of the vote.

Mr. Larsen has proposed what he calls “The Sensible Policing Act,” which would, first, direct police to ignore minor marijuana offences, and second, call on the federal government to repeal the prohibition on marijuana so the province could legally regulate pot the same way it regulates alcohol and tobacco.

The poll shows that roughly 70 per cent of respondents support both parts of the plan. It also shows that just under half of those surveyed say they would be more likely to support a political leader who called for marijuana reform.

A second poll, also timed to coincide with the annual 4/20 “cannabis celebration,” shows that nearly three-quarters of British Columbians would support further research into the regulation and taxation of marijuana. The Ipsos Reid poll shows significant support for leaders who would endorse such research.

In both polls, support for marijuana reform crosses all political stripes, geographic boundaries, age groups and levels of education.

This is, of course, not a new issue in our province. Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of law enforcement, health and academic experts which commissioned the Ipsos Reid poll, has been arguing for marijuana reform since the coalition was founded in 2011.

Along with many others, Stop the Violence contends that regulating and taxing marijuana production and distribution would take the profits out of the hands of criminal gangs, and result in not only safer streets but also in a potential tax windfall for the province.

But so far, even with numbers that show support for reform, even with the arguments that regulation would curb violence and contribute significantly to provincial coffers, both Christy Clark and Adrian Dix have ducked the issue. When questioned, both have repeatedly pointed to the fact that drug enforcement is a federal responsibility.

Dana Larsen notes that neither leader has had trouble commenting on other issues that are regulated by the federal government.

“We take action and talk about federal issues all the time, whether it’s the Coast Guard station being closed or pipelines, or the long-gun registry back in 2003, so there’s really no reason the province can’t take action on this issue as well,” Mr. Larsen said in an interview.

Indeed, “Pressing for new Coast Guard resources to be placed in Vancouver” even appears in the Liberal Party’s platform.

As for the NDP, Mr. Larsen suspects that while the party may be sympathetic, it would be folly to tackle an issue as controversial as marijuana legalization during an election campaign.

Professor Neil Boyd, who teaches criminology at Simon Fraser University, agrees that making marijuana reform an issue during a provincial election campaign is difficult.

But like Mr. Larsen, Prof. Boyd says the province can play a part. “The province does have power over the administration of justice and could certainly decide not to spend, for example, the $10-million a year it currently spends enforcing marijuana possession laws,” he said.

Given that it happens to fall on Saturday, and in the middle of an election campaign, organizers of this year’s 4/20 rally estimate it will be the biggest gathering of its kind Vancouver has ever seen.

But it may have little impact once the smoke clears.

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