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'Prince of Pot' adversary favours legalizing marijuana

Protesters take to the streets of downtown Vancouver May 20, 2010 to protest the extradition of the self-styled "Prince of Pot", Marc Emery.

Brett Beadle for The Globe and Mail/brett beadle The Globe and Mail

Linking the trade in B.C.-grown marijuana to drug violence in Mexico and the United States, a former U.S. federal prosecutor has added his voice to a growing chorus in favour of legalizing pot.

"Gangs affiliated with dangerous drug cartels are distributing marijuana grown in British Columbia – it's being exchanged for guns and cocaine that come up here [to British Columbia]" John McKay, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, said at a press conference in a downtown Vancouver hotel on Wednesday. "So the negative impact of that is more than just proceeds going to Mexican drug cartels, but also what's coming back to Canada because of this production."

Mr. McKay, who resigned from his attorney's role in 2007, was speaking at an event sponsored by Stop the Violence, a B.C.-based group comprising people from health, law enforcement and academia who are pushing for changes to Canada's drug policy.

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Mr. McKay was involved in the prosecution of Marc Emery, B.C.'s so-called Prince of Pot.

At the event, Mr. McKay sat next to Mr. Emery's wife, Jodie, who has spoken in favour of legalizing marijuana.

Mr. McKay, who has previously spoken out in favour of legalization, said the criminal prohibition of marijuana fuels an illegal industry that threatens public safety on both sides of the border.

He favours taxing and regulation, citing Initiative 502, a Washington State measure that would regulate marijuana production and earmark revenues for areas including substance-abuse prevention and health care.

Mr. McKay obtained indictments for Mr. Emery, who was sentenced to five years in a U.S. prison in 2010 for selling marijuana seeds to customers in the United States through the mail.

Mr. McKay on Wednesday said he had no regrets about the prosecution, noting that Mr. Emery chose to break the law instead of working within it to push for change.

Several former B.C. attorneys-general and Vancouver mayors have joined a coalition of police, judges and health officials advocating for the marijuana policy reform.

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Former B.C. attorney-general Geoff Plant, who also spoke at the event, said he had been "genuinely surprised" at the support for the group and its goals to regulate and tax marijuana, saying it's not an unrealistic goal.

Although Ottawa has jurisdiction, provincial governments can help shape policy, he said.

"The status quo always has a huge amount of inertia attached to it, even when the status quo is a failed public policy. And so you've got to mobilize to create the momentum to change," Mr. Plant said.

"I think the momentum is gathering from this campaign and will in fact persuade federal policy makers that they are out of step with the community consensus of Canadians and that it's time for federal change."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has conceded the situation now is flawed.

"I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do," Mr. Harper told reporters at a news conference after the Summit of the Americas.

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Bill C-10, passed in March, increases the penalties for drug crimes, including the imposition of a number of mandatory minimum sentences. Possession of six marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking, for instance, would result in a mandatory six-month term.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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