Dana Larsen brought his Sensible BC marijuana decriminalization campaign to Roberts Creek last week, drawing about 30 people.
Larsen — a former NDP candidate in the federal riding as well as provincial party leadership candidate — has been touring the province since last October to drum up support for a referendum campaign aimed at changing the provincial Policing Act.
The challenge is daunting, he said at Roberts Creek Hall on Jan. 25, as only one question — the HST — has ever made it to a referendum in B.C.
“B.C. is the only province that has a referendum system, but it has a higher threshold than any place in the world to get something on the ballot,” Larsen said.
The campaign is calling for the province to adopt a new Policing Act that would essentially direct police to not arrest and charge people for simple possession.
“It’s not some kind of trick. It’s embedded in our system,” he said. “By amending the Policing Act, we can make cannabis possession the lowest priority for police.”
To force the referendum for September 2014, the campaign needs to collect the signatures of about 400,000 registered B.C. voters — including at least 10 per cent from each of the province’s 85 electoral districts — all within a 90-day period. The signature drive starts this September and runs through November.
“We need support in every single town, every single city, every single district to make this happen,” Larsen said, admitting it won’t be easy. “Polls show we have more supporters among British Columbians than were against the HST, but we don’t have the organization they had.”
Larsen said many people are complacent because they believe the cannabis laws will inevitably change, but “nothing could be further from the truth.” The same attitude prevailed in the late 1970s, he said, “yet a whole generation has gone by and for the most part the laws have only gotten worse.”
Charges for pot possession in Canada, he said, have been steadily increasing since the Conservatives came to power. Last year, more than 3,500 people in B.C. were charged with simple possession — almost double the rate of any other province — at an estimated cost of between $15 million and $20 million.
While fewer than 10 possession charges are laid each year in Vancouver, because of its policing priorities, “across the country it’s skyrocketing,” Larsen said.
If the referendum is successful, Larsen said he expects the provincial law would change in early 2015.
The new Act would also come with a second provision, requiring the province to move toward legalization.
“I want the wine model,” Larsen said. “Treat cannabis like growing wine in your home.”
To fund the campaign, Larsen said organizers need between $500,000 and $1 million. Support has been coming in, he said, including a bus donated in Powell River and an unexpected financial boost from long-time pot activist Bob Erb of Terrace, who won a $25-million lottery jackpot last November.
For more information, see www.sensiblebc.ca.