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A Voter's Guide To Legalizing Pot

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Marijuana has become an important issue in this provincial election. Questions about marijuana policy have been raised by the public over and over again, at all-candidates meetings across the province, and even during the televised debate.

Together with the replies we received from candidates, and other comments about marijuana made in the media, we have compiled this Sensible BC Voters Guide, to help you better understand where B.C. parties and candidates stand on the question of marijuana policy and decriminalization in our province.

CANNABIS QUESTIONNAIRE

We began by sending a questionnaire to all candidates and parties in this election.

We asked three questions about marijuana enforcement and policing in B.C.

1) Given that policing is provincial jurisdiction, do you think that the doubling of marijuana possession charges over the past six years was the right policy for British Columbia? If elected, would you work to reverse this trend, or continue it?

2) Would you support effectively decriminalizing marijuana possession in B.C. through the Sensible Policing Act, if it won a referendum? Given that it has such strong public support, why should a referendum be necessary?

3) Given that alcohol and tobacco are primarily regulated by the provincial government, would you support having the province initiate a commission to study appropriate regulations for a legal B.C. marijuana industry?

NEW DEMOCRATS

The BC NDP have become more comfortable in stating their support for marijuana decriminalization over the past few years. The BC NDP provincial council actually passed a policy resolution pledging their firm support for legalization in 2006 (I know because I wrote it and helped shepherd it through), but unfortunately it doesn't get talked about much.

During the televised debate, when the marijuana question was raised, Adrian Dix was clear in his support for decriminalization. He added that Harper's mandatory minimum sentences were going to cause problems here in BC.

However, Dix also said that marijuana was solely a federal issue and didn't pledge to take any sort of action at the provincial level.

Here are the replies sent from the NDP headquarters to our three questions:

1) The BC NDP believes that marijuana should be decriminalized, but marijuana is regulated by the Federal government and any change would have to be made at the Federal level. The Provincial Government has no authority to circumvent the Federal Government on the administration of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

We are concerned that the federal government's pushing ahead with mandatory prison terms for possession of marijuana could cause a significant spike in B.C.'s criminal justice system spending and impact our court system here in B.C. If the NDP forms the next provincial government, we will raise these issues with federal government.

2) A BC NDP government would respect the process for initiative petitions established under the Recall and Initiative Act for a draft Sensible Policing Act. We support this process as a legitimate means for voters to propose new laws or changes to existing laws.

3) The BC NDP is not considering initiating a commission to study appropriate regulations for a legal B.C. marijuana industry.

A few individual NDP candidates also sent in personal comments, while others have been in the media over the past several months, talking about marijuana and Sensible BC.

Terry Platt, candidate for West Vancouver - Capilano, said "my feelings about decriminalizing marijuana are the same as the Marijuana Party," and compared the prohibition of marijuana to the harmful prohibition of alcohol.

Robin Austin, NDP MLA for Skeena, spoke at the recent 4/20 rally in Terrace, telling the crowd that he supported regulated marijuana sales, and that the marijuana industry could provide jobs and tax revenue.

"I'm hoping that Sensible BC will be able to achieve their goal just as those who opposed the HST were," added Austin.

Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River - Sunshine Coast, has spoken out on marijuana issues repeatedly over the years. He has been very supportive of Sensible BC, and spoke at our first public forum in Victoria in September 2012. He has also called for medical marijuana to be covered by the B.C. Medical Services Plan.

David Eby is taking on Christy Clark for the NDP in Vancouver - Point Grey. As the former Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association he has long been a voice for legalization of marijuana, as well as a non-criminal, health-based approach to drug use in general.

Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver - Mount Pleasant, has also been a long-time advocate for sensible marijuana laws. She has worked with NDP MP Libby Davies on issues around medical marijuana access, helped to ensure the success of InSite, and has spoken out for better drug laws in Canada.

Overall, the BC NDP and their candidates support marijuana law reform, and are sympathetic to the ideas of decriminalization or legalization. Some of them want to make this issue a priority, but Adrian Dix and the party's inner circle are reluctant to take action.

LIBERALS

Unlike the NDP, there is a broad range of opinion on marijuana between the BC Liberal candidates. Some are very progressive, others support prohibition, and the leadership just wants to avoid the issue.

Liberal headquarters sent a two-sentence response to our questionnaire:

We believe that the federal government is responsible for regulating marijuana, and any changes to the current structure must be initiated by them. Today's BC Liberals are focused on controlling spending and growing the economy to keep taxes low for British Columbia's families and businesses.

During the debate, Christy Clark mocked Dix for saying he supported decriminalization. She otherwise ignored the question and just said she wanted to grow the economy.

Darryl Plecas, Liberal candidate in Abbotsford South, has long been an advocate of stricter sentences for marijuana offences. He's a criminologist who works primarily for the RCMP as an advocate of prohibition. Last September, he helped present the anti-decriminalization side at a debate sponsored by the Union of BC Municipalities, telling the gathered mayors that "smoking marijuana is stupid and you become stupider."

Steve Finlay, one of the two BC Marijuana Party candidates running in this election, is facing off against Plecas - specifically targeting the drug warrior for his prohibitionist stance.

Jeff Kuah, Liberal candidate in Burnaby-Edwards, is a former police officer and has also said he is staunchly against legalization.

In contrast, former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, running for the Liberals in Vancouver - False Creek, is known for a progressive view on drug policy. Sullivan recently called for "the development and delivery of alternative marijuana legislation," and pledged "to initiate an intelligent public policy debate on the legalization of marijuana."

Greg Garbula, running in Nelson-Creston, and Kevin Krueger, Liberal MLA for Kamloops - South Thompson, have both also come out for marijuana reform. In a recent interview, Krueger said "if Canadians want to indulge the way they apparently do, I don't think we should put them in jail for it." He added that prohibition fuels organized crime and called on Harper to reconsider his prohibitionist position.

Other BC Liberals seemed open to the idea but needed more information. Walter Anderson, Liberal candidate for Nanaimo, had some questions about why marijuana possession charges might have doubled in B.C., but also indicated his support for a provincial commission on marijuana reform.

Even if the Liberals don't form government, they will still have a strong impact on how the next NDP government will deal with marijuana. If the Liberal caucus includes some MLAs who support decriminalization, it will be much easier for the NDP to take action. But an opposition that includes anti-cannabis crusaders like Plecas and Kuah will attack the NDP if it moves to make change.

CONSERVATIVES

The real surprise this election has been the many Conservative candidates who have come out in favor of marijuana law reform.

For the most part, we didn't hear back from Conservatives about our questionnaire. However, leader John Cummins expressed cautious support for decriminalization during the televised debate, and later told reporters "I don't see making a criminal out of somebody who has a small quantity of marijuana."

Conservative candidate Bill Clarke (Vancouver Quilchena), has said he wants to see marijuana legalized, while Duane Nickull (Vancouver-Point Grey) and Greg Kazakoff (Oak Bay - Gordon Head), have both stated their support for decriminalization.

Kazakoff did reply to our questions, and told us "it is high time to stop making criminals out of an entire generation of people." He added that Sensible BC has his "full support."

GREEN PARTY

The Greens undeniably have the strongest position on marijuana reform.

They are the only one of the main four parties to have marijuana specifically in their platform. Along with other harm-reduction policies and prescription heroin for addicts, the Green Party platform pledges to "work toward regulation and control of the production and distribution of cannabis through licensed outlets."

During the TV debate, Jane Sterk said her party would treat drug use as a health issue and not a criminal one, and work to change marijuana prohibition.

Many Green Party candidates wrote back to our questionnaire with thoughtful responses. All supported decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, and all said that, if elected, they would work to take action on the issue regardless of our referendum campaign's success.

Jodie Emery, Green candidate for Vancouver West-End, is an outspoken marijuana activist and wife of imprisoned "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. Over the past few years she has become one of Canada's most recognized figures working for marijuana reform. Her place as a Green candidate also shows their solid support for this issue.

CONCLUSION

There is an unprecedented level of political support for marijuana reform in BC. There is no other issue on which so many candidates from all four major parties are in agreement.

This matches recent polling done by Sensible BC, which showed majority support for decriminalization among every age group, every demographic group and every political affiliation in our province.

The challenge will be to convince our next government to take action, and decriminalize at the provincial level. British Columbia can decriminalize possession, and the time is right for our next Premier to take this important first step towards a sensible marijuana law.

Whatever your political affiliation, I encourage you to push your candidates and your party to take a stronger position on this issue. Let's make sure that every single candidate running in this election knows that marijuana policy is an area where we expect action, and not merely words.