06/10/2013 12:50 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 05:12 EDT

How To Decriminalize Marijuana

Did you know that B.C. can decriminalize marijuana? Indeed, any Canadian province could decriminalize marijuana possession at any time.

Provinces have all kinds of legal options when it comes to dealing with possession of marijuana.

We know what the RCMP's preferred option is: more arrests and more charges for marijuana possession.

The RCMP have increased marijuana possession charges across Canada by about 30 per cent since Harper came to power. In B.C. the increase has been the greatest: there was a 211 per cent increase in pot possession charges between 2005 and 2011.


For provincial politicians to simply pass the buck while writing ever larger cheques to the RCMP is simply not acceptable. It's time for B.C. to adopt a sensible marijuana policy: the Sensible Policing Act.

Policing is provincial jurisdiction

Many Canadians don't realize that policing is provincial jurisdiction, and that all police in B.C. operate under the authority of B.C.'s Police Act and the provincial attorney-general.

All provinces have the duty and responsibility to instruct and direct all police in their province in terms of priorities and spending. This duty has become more important than ever, as policing costs are skyrocketing across Canada.

There are many precedents for provinces decriminalizing certaing activities by directing police resources and enforcement priorities

8 provinces decriminalized possession of an unregistered long gun

In 2003, eight provinces refused to enforce the federal Firearms Act because they did not support the Long Gun Registry. The government of British Columbia joined with seven other provinces by simply refusing to enforce the federal law.

In that case, provincial governments declared that "resources should be directed to the prosecution of substantive criminal offences." A provincial government could simply take the same stance in regards to simple possession of cannabis.

B.C. decriminalized injection drug use at InSite

More recently, the B.C. government fought for the right of InSite, the Supervised Injection Site, to continue operations despite the federal government wanting to close it down. In that case, the provincial government took the federal government to court on an issue of drug policy, and won the right to keep InSite open.

If the B.C. government can fight and win against the federal government when it comes to protecting the health and safety of a small number of injection drug users, then surely the B.C. government can also stand up for the health and safety of the hundreds of thousands of current marijuana users in the province?

Let's not forget that health care is also provincial jurisdiction, and that there are tens of thousands of medical marijuana users in B.C. who are not being treated well under the federal government's failure of a medical marijuana program.

B.C. decriminalized impaired driving

As a third example, let's remember that B.C. also decriminalized impaired driving in 2011, by creating a provincial regulatory scheme, and then instructing police to use the province's administrative penalties instead of the federal Criminal Code.

If the province can circumvent the Criminal Code with a set of administrative penalties and regulations around impaired driving, then why can't the province also create a set of rules around safe production and sale of cannabis, and focus police resources on those who are not in compliance with those rules.

Vancouver has decriminalized marijuana possession

Finally, there is the simple matter of a policy directive. The B.C. government has authority over the RCMP in B.C., and they should exercise it, and tell them to adopt the same policy that is already in place in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Police Department have a long-standing policy of not making charges for marijuana possession, and of not bothering people about possession of marijuana unless there is a complaint.

In the rest of B.C., the RCMP have decided to adopt the opposite approach, with a steadily increasing number of police hours being spent to seize small amounts of marijuana, and a steadily increasing number of charges being laid. This is despite the fact that British Columbians don't think marijuana use is a crime, and that the BC Union of Municipalities wants to decriminalize marijuana.


It would be perfectly reasonable and appropriate for the B.C. attorney-general to simply order the RCMP to stop wasting their time and taxpayer's money on busting people for marijuana possession.

The Sensible Policing Act

The Sensible BC campaign has written legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in B.C., called the Sensible Policing Act.

This legislation would do four things, all within provincial jurisdiction:

(1) stop police from searching or arresting adults for marijuana possession in B.C.
(2) treat possession of marijuana by minors the same as alcohol.
(3) call upon the federal government to repeal marijuana prohibition.
(4) start figuring out the rules needed for legalization in B.C.

The Sensible Policing Act has already been approved by Elections BC as valid legislation, within provincial jurisdiction and suitable for a referendum.

Sensible BC is working to collect the signatures needed in order to have a provincial vote on the Sensible Policing Act. We will be starting the official 90-day signature-gathering period in September, and right now we are getting volunteers in place, building public awareness and pre-registering supporters.

Please join our campaign for a marijuana referendum.

B.C. can decriminalize marijuana possession, as the first step to a sensible marijuana policy.