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Former B.C. attorneys-general call for legalization of marijuana

A young marijuana plant thriving in the basement of a grow operation.

Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail

Spurred in part by the point-blank shooting of a known gangster in an upscale Vancouver hotel, four former attorneys-general of British Columbia have added their voices to a chorus calling for the legalization of marijuana, saying current laws are resulting in a worsening spiral of violence and crime.

"Gunfire in downtown Vancouver hotels as drug warlords fight over their turf is all the reason that any British Columbian should need to call their local [MLA]to say, 'Could we have a new approach please?' " said Geoff Plant, who served as attorney-general between 2001 and 2005. "Because the current one is not working."

Mr. Plant was referring to last month's shooting of Sandip Duhre, who was killed in a restaurant in the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

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Police had identified Mr. Duhre – Vancouver's first homicide of the year – as the ringleader of a gang vying for power in the Lower Mainland's illegal drug trade. He and others were the subject of a rare public warning in 2011, when police cautioned that anybody associating with the Duhre or rival Dhak gangs could be in danger.

Since that January incident, there have been others, including a fatal Surrey shooting that police described as a "settling of gang beefs."

For Mr. Plant and the three other former AGs – Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh and Graeme Bowbrick – pushing for legalization, there's a direct line between such violence and Canada's drug laws.

"The case demonstrating the failure and harms of marijuana prohibition is airtight," the AGs wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix.

"The evidence? Massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety and significant – and escalating – costs to taxpayers."

The attorneys-general – three who served as NDP MLAs, and Mr. Plant, who served in a Liberal cabinet – are weighing in as part of Stop the Violence, a coalition pushing for cannabis to be regulated under a public-health framework. Its backers include four former Vancouver mayors, current Mayor Gregor Robertson and doctors involved with harm reduction programs such as Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site.

As the coalition ramps up its calls for legalization, the federal government is backing Bill C-10, tough-on-crime legislation that includes harsher sentences for drug offences.

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"It's an unfortunate coincidence of timing that the Stop the Violence campaign is getting legs at the same moment in time that the Government of Canada appears to be just absolutely hell-bent for leather to take Canada seven or eight steps backward in criminal justice policy," Mr. Plant said.

"So no doubt the hill we are trying to climb here is pretty steep – but that should not stop us from trying to build this conversation to the point that government recognizes that at least in respect of this aspect of their criminal justice policy, they need to rethink their approach."

Ms. Clark said she would leave the marijuana issue to Ottawa.

"It's in their sole sphere of responsibility," Ms. Clark told reporters in Victoria. "So as a premier, I respect that former attorneys-general have taken a stand – people outside politics – but as a premier, I'm going to leave this to the federal government."

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

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