08/09/2013 07:28 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 06:58 EDT

Marijuana Decriminalization: Sensible BC Battling Stoner Stigma


Dana Larsen isn't just fighting Canada's pot laws; he's also facing down a social stigma that makes it challenging for people to stand up for the Sensible B.C. campaign.

Larsen took his campaign to towns including Lillooet, Williams Lake and Quesnel this week in a search for 6,000 canvassers who will help him gather signatures for a petition that, if successful, would force a referendum on marijuana decriminalization.

Speaking via phone from Mackenzie in B.C.'s north, he said that some people are hesitant to volunteer for the campaign because they fear the perception associated with using or advocating for marijuana.

"People are afraid that if they campaigned for our effort, if they get involved in Sensible B.C., that they will be judged or that they will lose their job, or that their friends' kids' parents will judge them," Larsen told The Huffington Post B.C.

"Most organizers aren't worried about that, but it is definitely a real valid concern for a lot of people and I hear it almost every day."

He added that the campaign has drawn a variety of people to its ranks and it's not just stoners.

"Not that I agree with the stereotype, but there's plenty of people on our campaign who are not tokers, who are working very hard for this campaign because they believe in it," he said.

Larsen went on to say that recent comments by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that support the legalization of marijuana have helped beat back concerns around openly supporting the drug.

"I think that's going to help people to talk about it and sort of be like, well if Justin Trudeau says he wants to legalize, I can feel comfortable saying that I support the same idea as well," he said.

The word on the street in Vancouver, however, bears out Larsen's concerns about stigma.

Madelaine Simpkin, a gender studies student at SFU, said she agrees with sending the issue of marijuana decriminalization to a referendum, but she wouldn't get involved personally because she feels that stigma.

"I personally have that stigma and it's not based on a lot of educated information," she said, adding that her brother smokes pot and that it hasn't led to positive outcomes for him.

"That might not be the truth, that could just be my personal experience."

SFU criminology student Ryan Van Hove said he was divided on the topic of decriminalizing marijuana, but he said the stigma around the drug is one factor that would stop him from volunteering with Larsen's campaign.

"I guess there is a bit of a stigma for trying to support legalizing marijuana," he said. "So that would probably factor in."

Larsen said the campaign has gathered about 700 canvassers so far, about 12 per cent of his ultimate goal before he can start collecting signatures on Sept. 9, though he can still recruit more canvassers once signature gathering begins.

Larsen expects that many volunteers will sign up at the last minute, much as they did for the Fight HST campaign, he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted Dana Larsen saying, "People are afraid that if they campaigned for our effort, if they get involved in Sensible B.C., that they will be judged or that they will lose their job, or that their kids' parents will judge them." The story should have read, "that their friends' kids' parents will judge them." The story has been updated.

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