Marijuana legalization is back in the minds of British Columbians after voters in Washington state chose to decriminalize recreational use of the drug in November's U.S. election.

The Washington vote has generated enormous interest in Canada. Observers wonder how close we are to legalization in the Great White North, and how it will affect B.C.'s estimated $7-billion marijuana industry.

The legal history of marijuana in B.C. actually stretches back to 1907, when a riot by the Asiatic Exclusion League tore through Vancouver's Chinatown, said a 2002 Senate committee report.

William Lyon Mackenzie King, then-deputy minister of labour and future prime minister, visited the city with the aim of meeting Chinese people who sought compensation after the riot.

He met with activists who wanted to curtail the opium trade, which was brought to Canada by Chinese labourers. Chinese workers used the drug the way that white workers used alcohol — to "treat illnesses and to momentarily forget their social and working conditions," the Senate report said.

King learned that opium was being used by white people as well. Those meetings helped form the Opium Act of 1908 which evolved into today's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Modern-day activists want to see government regulations on marijuana relaxed or eliminated entirely.

The Liberal government tried to relax rules around marijuana in 2002, but it never passed.

Instead, the governing Conservative Party has since imposed mandatory minimum sentences for first-time, drug-related offences.

There is, at the moment, no imminent motion to decriminalize marijuana in Canada.

A history of the marijuana legalization campaign in B.C. and Canada:

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  • Asiatic Exclusion League Riot in Vancouver

    1907: An <a href="">anti-Asian riot by the Asiatic Exclusion League</a> tears through Vancouver's Chinatown.

  • Opium and Narcotic Drug Act

    1911: After William Lyon MacKenzie King's Opium Act of 1908, Vancouver's chief of police supports the <a href="">Opium and Narcotic Drug Act</a>, which prohibits the use of opium, cocaine or morphine.

  • Cannabis added to Opium and Narcotics Drug Act

    1923: <a href="">Cannabis is added</a> to the Opium and Narcotics Drug Act.

  • Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

    1996: Jean Chretien's Liberal government passes the <a href="">Controlled Drugs and Substances Act</a>, which imposes a maximum three-year jail sentence and a $5,000 fine for any contraventions.

  • Bill C-38

    2002: Urged on by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, the Liberal government, tries to push through <a href="">Bill C-38</a>, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and other legislation to permit possession of marijuana with only a fine as punishment. The bill died during prorogation.

  • Marc Emery

    2010: Vancouver pro-pot activist <a href="">Marc Emery</a> (seen on the poster) is extradited to the United States to face drug charges relating to his seed-selling business.

  • InSite

    2011: The Supreme Court of Canada rules that <a href="">InSite</a>, a safe injection facility on the Downtown Eastside, can continue to provide services for addicts.

  • Stephen Harper

    2012: Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper passes an omnibus crime bill with <a href="">mandatory minimum sentences</a> for possession of marijuana.

  • Dana Larsen

    2012: Activist <a href="">Dana Larsen</a> starts an initiative petition in B.C. to stop police from enforcing simple possession-and-use laws for adults. He later <a href="">withdraws the petition</a>, saying he wants more time to organize volunteers.

  • Washington State legalizes marijuana

    2012: Washington state legalizes recreational use of marijuana as part after a referendum passes during the U.S. presidential election. Supporters include travel guide author Rick Steves.

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