“ I am going to leave the marijuana debate to the federal government. It's in their sole sphere of responsibility,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark told reporters after former attorneys-general call for legalization of marijuana.
The chorus of voices calling for a change in the marijuana laws is growing louder in B.C. as the federal government moves in the opposite direction, advocating mandatory minimum sentences.
Four former attorneys-general added their names this week to a growing list of people asking the provincial government to urge Ottawa to regulate and tax marijuana use and to abandon the mandatory minimum sentences for minor and non-violent marijuana-related offences. Others on the list include four former Vancouver mayors, the current Vancouver mayor, medical health officers across the province, several police officers and health-related academics.
Premier Christy Clark declined to comment. On previous occasions, however, she has not shied away from entering the debate over matters solely within federal jurisdiction. She has even spoken out about the tough-on-crime bill that includes the new marijuana penalties.
Last November, Ms. Clark offered support for parts of the federal crime bill during Question Period in the provincial legislature. NDP Leader Adrian Dix asked whether she agreed that Ottawa – not B.C. – should pay the increased costs for prisons that will result from tougher sentencing.
After expressing some concern about how B.C. will manage the costs, Ms. Clark spoke at length about parts of the bill that she felt would be popular. She referred to tougher sentences for child molesters and violent young offenders, and ending house arrest for serious crimes.
“Those are all things that British Columbians are behind and they’re all things that people on this side of the House are also 100-per-cent behind,” Ms. Clark said. She did not mention tougher penalties for marijuana possession.
Asked four more times by Mr. Dix and NDP justice critic Kathy Corrigan about paying the costs, she repeatedly talked about the substance of the bill, without indicating any hesitation about commenting on an area solely within federal jurisdiction.
“I support making sure that our children are safe from sex offenders, and I support the elements of this bill that will mean that Canada and British Columbia are safer places because we have laws that will protect us,” Ms. Clark said.
Norman Ruff, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Victoria, said Ms. Clark’s response to the concerns of the attorneys-general about marijuana laws reflected provincial politics as much as her new-found respect for the division of responsibilities between federal and provincial governments.
Ms. Clark has not shrunk from involving herself in debates over federal issues that affect the province, Prof. Ruff said in an interview. But whenever she has spoken out, she has always made it clear that she was onside with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government agenda on crime, he said.
Her primary purpose in staking out a position has been to retain political support that could otherwise drift to B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins. “She is trying to head off the [B.C.]Conservatives by appearing to be tough on crime,” Prof. Ruff said. “She is leaning to the right, going into the next election.”
By trying to deflect a question on where she stands, it looks like Ms. Clark does not see any political advantage at this time in declaring her position on the legalization of marijuana. Similar to other politicians, she may be waiting until she is no longer in office to speak frankly about the controversial weed.