04/18/2013 08:28 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Stop the Violence attempts to smoke out politicians on marijuana issue

VANCOUVER - It's not the "did you inhale" question many politicians have been asked, but a lobby group will be questioning want-to-be politicians on their position over a regulated marijuana market in British Columbia.

Stop the Violence BC — a coalition of police, doctors, lawyers, politicians and academics — argues a regulated and taxed marijuana market could choke the flow of funds going to organized crime, reduce the proliferation of illegal grow-ops in B.C. and fund drug awareness and harm prevention campaigns.

The group proposes a research trial that would test the impact of a regulated marijuana market in British Columbia.

Dr. Evan Wood, who founded the Stop the Violence BC coalition, said the trial would fit under an exemption in the federal drug law — the same exemption that Insite, the supervised drug injection site in B.C., already operate under.

"This would be something that is fully compliant with the international treaties that Canada is signatory to and fully compliant to our federal drug laws," Wood said.

Wood said B.C. politicians have hid behind the argument that marijuana is a federally controlled substance and criminal law falls under federal jurisdiction.

Shirley Bond, the Liberal attorney general who is running for re-election, said her party has been clear about its position on the legal aspects of cannabis control.

"We've said clearly that any significant change to how we manage this from a law enforcement perspective in British Columbia needs to be led by the federal government."

Bond said, however, a Liberal government would welcome coalition members to "bring their proposal and give us the opportunity to look at what it says."

Former Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant said he is heartened to hear that Bond is at least open to hearing his argument.

"That's not slamming the door," said Plant, who is among five attorneys general who are members of the Stop the Violence BC coalition.

"I think it is appropriate for any provincial government to pick and choose the federal issues it wants to take on," said Plant, adding that this issue is one that needs to get a lot more traction if the federal law is ever to be challenged.

"I'm not asking any candidate for the legislature today to support legalization, though I hope one day they will," said Plant.

"I'm only asking whether they would go out of their way (to prevent) an important piece of research that will help us all learn what we need to know," he said.

"You would be hard pressed to find a better example of a law whose unintended consequences are more perniciously contrary to its intended effect than this one," he said, adding that cannabis prohibition has provided "the economic incentive for an enormous underground economy and routinely kills people on our streets."

The NDP have expressed their support for decriminalizing marijuana but have also hid behind the argument that the matter is a federal one and out of their jurisdiction.

"It doesn't appear that the federal government has any interest in decriminalization," NDP justice critic Leonard Krog said in an interview last year.

Last year, mayors from eight B.C. communities added their voice to the coalition's call for a regulated and taxed marijuana market, and academics recently pegged the value of the B.C. pot industry at between $443 million and $564 million a year.

A 2012 study, conducted by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University researchers who are members of the coalition, said there are more 366,000 pot users in B.C.