Between triumph and tears in the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday night, a handful of state ballot measures surprised observers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
With Initiative 502, Washington state voters ended 70 years of marijuana prohibition. Colorado voters also made it legal for people to consume cannabis recreationally, a stunning turn of events against the backdrop of the continuing U.S. war on drugs.
Can Canada be far behind? With B.C. civic representatives voting en masse recently in favour of decriminalizing pot and four former B.C. attorneys-general publicly advocating for legalization of marijuana, will federal lawmakers here continue to have tin ears?
“I’m hoping it will just jump right across the border,” said Theresa Edstrom, a member of the Kamloops-based Canadian Safe Cannabis Society.
Carl Anderson, a local medical marijuana activist who opposes prohibition in general, is also hopeful.
“It’s all going to snowball, hopefully, one day, with the government, hopefully, waking up,” he said. “The public is overwhelmingly in support. If the government doesn’t follow the will of the people, it’s not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship.”
He referred to a recent poll by Angus Reid that found 75 per cent of British Columbians favour taxation and regulation of marijuana. That result represents a six-per-cent increase in support in just one year.
Anderson points to an initiative by Dana Larsen, a B.C. marijuana activist and former NDP leadership contender, who is about to launch a petition drive to decriminalize the drug.
Elections B.C. has approved Larsen’s initiative, enabled by the same law that allowed a petition to challenge the HST. The petition will be issued Nov. 19, giving Larsen 90 days to collect signatures of more than 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 85 constituencies.
Larsen brings his petition drive to Kamloops Nov. 20 and will speak on the issue at Desert Gardens at 6:30 p.m.
And south of the border? There is ample motivation for change there, Anderson suggested.
“States are going bankrupt from the cost of the war on drugs,” Anderson said. “And the fact is, it’s hardly had any effect.”
He argues that during the decades-long crackdown on cannabis consumption in the U.S., use has grown fourfold.
“It’s costing a lot of money and a lot of lives, too.”
Coun. Donovan Cavers was among a handful of Kamloops politicians who voted in favour of a UBCM resolution in September that favoured decriminalization.
Cavers said he will watch to see how the Washington state and Colorado measures play out against U.S. federal laws.
“It would be interesting to see what the result would be if a referendum were held in B.C. with a similar question,” he said. “There are a lot of people who use marijuana recreationally and there’s a huge potential for government revenue.”
Larsen’s petition will propose a back-door route to decriminalization. A draft bill called the Sensible Policing Act would amend B.C.’s Police Act and prohibit the use of police resources to enforce laws governing possession and use of marijuana.