Sensible BC hopes to get 400,000 signatures on marijuana petition by December
By Dr. Paul Martiquet
For many years in Canada and elsewhere, the default approach to marijuana has been prohibition. That this has not worked well is beyond doubt and the time has come to find a better approach.
The answer, according to the group SensibleBC, is to decriminalize simple possession of the drug and to redirect policing budgets to more effective pursuits.
Is marijuana decriminalization better?
The reasons for decriminalizing pot possession are simple. First are the cost savings that will accrue as we spend less to charge and prosecute people for simple possession of cannabis. In BC, the number of possession charges has more than doubled since 2005 — we should spend scarce budget dollars more effectively. Public safety would be improved if police officers and resources were focussed on real crime instead of charging people with possession.
Thirdly, public opinion shows that the vast majority of British Columbians agree that possession of marijuana should not lead to a criminal record; two-thirds support marijuana being legally taxed and regulated. These views are consistent in all regions of the province and among voters for all parties.
SensibleBC and changes to marijuana laws
Sensible BC is a group working to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana in British Columbia through the Sensible Policing Act. The proposal would amend the Police Act to redirect all police in the province from taking any action in cases of simple marijuana possession by adults. This would apply to all RCMP and municipal police in BC.
Some may question the need for this change in legislation, but much of what we think about cannabis in BC is misconceived. Many people think that marijuana possession is ‘basically legal’ in BC. Not true: BC has Canada’s highest rate of police reported incidents for simple possession of marijuana and BC police spend about twice as much time and money as the national average on dealing with marijuana possession.
And the rate of possession charges in BC has been steadily increasing for years, as has the cost to taxpayers. The taxpayers of BC spent $10.5 million last year, just paying for the police and court resources to detain and convict people for marijuana possession.
Who is in favour of the change to marijuana laws?
The need for the Sensible Policing Act is made all the clearer when we consider who is in favour of the change. We start with the Health Officers Council of BC who state, “It is our view that all psychoactive substances, including cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco should be regulated from a public health perspective.” More specifically, they support the direction of the proposed Act.
In addition to Public Health organizations, supporters include Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), four former BC Attorneys General. Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police finds current laws unworkable. In August 2013 at a national convention in Winnipeg, the association asked for the power to hand out tickets for illegal possession of small amounts of marijuana.
SensibleBC is spearheading a referendum initiative that starts September 9. The goal is to gather 400,000 signatures. If they accomplish this, there will be a referendum in 2014 to decriminalize marijuana possession. The group has until December 5, 2013 to gather the required signatures.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
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