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SensibleBC, a marijuana advocacy group wants to amend the province’s Police Act to prohibit the use of police resources on enforcing marijuana possession laws, essentially decriminalizing it. (RAFAL GERSZAK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
SensibleBC, a marijuana advocacy group wants to amend the province’s Police Act to prohibit the use of police resources on enforcing marijuana possession laws, essentially decriminalizing it. (RAFAL GERSZAK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Petition campaign to decriminalize pot likely to go up in smoke Add to ...

There is just one week to go in SensibleBC’s crusade to decriminalize pot possession in British Columbia and the group has significantly ramped up campaign efforts, nearly tripling its volunteers and shifting strategies in the final push.

But success is likely out of reach.

The marijuana advocacy group has collected somewhere between 175,000 and 200,000 signatures since the campaign began on Sept. 9, director and spokesman Dana Larsen says. That’s still a considerable distance from what’s needed to force a referendum on a draft bill called the Sensible Policing Act: roughly 320,000 signatures, represented by 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 85 electoral districts.

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The group wants to amend the province’s Police Act to prohibit the use of police resources on enforcing marijuana possession laws, essentially decriminalizing it. The proposed Sensible Policing Act would not affect laws around trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking or cultivation.

The number of registered canvassers has grown from about 1,700 to more than 4,500 during the campaign, Mr. Larsen said. In addition to setting up tables and parking the SensibleBC campaign bus – the Cannabus – at busy locations such as SkyTrain stations, volunteers are now going door-to-door collecting signatures.

“You can only collect signatures at Metrotown SkyTrain station for so many weeks in a row before you start seeing the same people,” Mr. Larsen said.

The group is hoping to collect the needed signatures by Dec. 5. It must then submit them to Elections BC by Dec. 9.

Some ridings have proved easier than others. Vancouver-West End and Nelson-Creston were among the first to meet the threshold, while ridings in the Fraser Valley and the Cariboo have been more difficult.

“Vancouver as a whole has been a challenge, partly because everybody thinks Vancouver’s going to be really easy,” Mr. Larsen said. “It’s a big city with a lot of people here, with many different viewpoints. No district is a cakewalk. Just the number of signatures required in every spot is quite substantial.”

Westside-Kelowna, Premier Christy Clark’s riding, passed its threshold of about 4,500 signatures this week. SensibleBC marked the accomplishment with a small media event during which canvassers presented the petitions to Mr. Larsen and declared a symbolic victory.

However, the campaign has had its challenges. Petitioners have told of being spit on, cursed at, shooed away from businesses and otherwise harassed. A fast-food restaurant in Vancouver reportedly sent an employee out with a leaf blower to disrupt the petitioning.

“We’ve had people trying to steal our paperwork, people trying to light the table on fire,” Mr. Larsen said. “One canvasser said someone tried to back over her with his truck.”

“It’s an issue that stirs people’s emotions. Seven out of 10 British Columbians want the marijuana laws to change, but among that 30 per cent that are against it, there are some that are very passionately against it.”

Maxwell Cameron, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia, said while there is broad public support for the decriminalization of pot possession, it is no easy feat to fire up the public at large.

The campaign has tried to appeal to those ambivalent about the issue by pointing out B.C. spends about $10.5-million a year to charge and convict people for marijuana possession and is losing out on massive tax revenues.

A study done by UBC and Simon Fraser University researchers last year found British Columbians spend an estimated $500-million on marijuana a year.

Mr. Larsen said if the group fails to gather enough signatures this time, it will “definitely be trying again” in the future.

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