A Union of B.C. Municipalities vote on decriminalizing marijuana got enough backing to pass Wednesday, including positive votes from most Kamloops representatives.
“There’s a lot of people who have researched the issue, who say it’s something we should try,” said Coun. Arjun Singh.
“It’s something we could try and see how it goes. Most people in the room, a big majority felt the same way. Which surprised me.”
But even those who supported the motion agreed it’s moot unless the province takes action on the UBCM’s resolution.
“The UBCM is a lobby group to the province. We have no jurisdiction to legislate to the province. They may or not choose to act on our recommendation. That’s as far as UBCM can go with it,” said Coun. Nancy Bepple.
She hoped decriminalizing marijuana would get rid of illegal grow operations and reduce the drug-gang violence around pot production.
“Most people want to obey the law and if they can legitimately make a living at it, they can out-compete the criminals,” she said.
Mayor Peter Milobar went against the flow of his Kamloops council colleagues.
“After hearing the discussion and the way it was worded, I voted against it,” he said.
“I understand the need for better access for a safe source on the medicinal side of things and have no issues with that whatsoever. But the whole premise on this is it will get rid of organized crime. When you look at the overall numbers and facts, that’s not the case.”
Milobar said it was pointed out during debate that the majority of B.C. marijuana is shipped to the U.S. — that won’t change, even with decriminalization.
The resolution, put forward by the District of Metchosin near Victoria, prompted discussion of the legalization issue at a forum earlier this week at the UBCM’s annual general meeting.
Wednesday’s resolution debate took about 20 minutes before the vote, which was heavily in favour of decriminalization.
“Prohibition is a failed policy. It was a failed policy with alcohol,” said Metchosin Coun. Moralea Milne during her introduction of the resolution.
Proponents cited a potential revenue stream for governments while opponents decried the effect decriminalization would have on young people and its lack of effect on organized crime.
“This resolution is thinly disguised attempt to take an important issue of principle and make it all about money,” said Tom Siddon, a director with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
“As a teacher, a school trustee formerly and a parent and grandparent of 10, I worry about where we’re leading our nation in the values we set as elected politicians. I think we’ve been frying too many brains.”
Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun voted and spoke in favour, calling it a revenue issue as well as a way to ease the backlog in the courts.
“It’s about being progressive. I’m not going to judge someone on whether or not they smoke pot,” he said. “I mean, I tried it when I was younger. I turned out OK.”
Police information shows B.C. is responsible for 40 per cent of the marijuana produced in Canada and 80 to 95 per cent of that is exported illegally to the United States. Marijuana is estimated to be a $7 billion a year business in the province.
Coun. Donovan Cavers favoured the resolution and said marijuana should be treated like any other agricultural product.
“The big one is the revenue. I’ve heard there’s a lot of marijuana growers opposed to legalization because it won’t make their product so lucrative if they don’t do it in the shadows,” he said.
“If it were taxed, there would be a lot of revenues the government could use for good things like treating addictions and that sort of thing.”
He cited statistics that said one-quarter of British Columbians use marijuana regularly.
“If there’s that many using it, there’s a large part of the population that doesn’t have huge problems with it,” he said.
Coun. Ken Christian also voted for the resolution.
“I believe, as does the Health Officers Council of B.C., that criminalization doesn’t work and the harm reduction approach to marijuana use would be more productive,” he said.
The UBCM set a precedent by supporting the resolution, he noted.
“This has nothing really to do with Kamloops or even B.C., it’s a federal matter. It’s historic in that it’s the first major municipal group to come onside with this.
Coun. Marg Spina is also at the UBCM, but she couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.