Sensible B.C. says it already has about a third of the names required to meet the local threshold in a provincewide petition drive to force a referendum on marijuana decriminalization.
Carl Anderson, a longtime advocate of medical marijuana use who is organizing the drive in the two Kamloops constituencies, said on Wednesday that they have so far obtained about 3,000 signatures.
If the initiative fails, Anderson holds out hope for a charter challenge of new federal policy that takes growing medical pot out of the hands of users and hands it to the private sector.
The B.C. petition campaign was launched Sept. 9 and has until Dec. 9 to obtain about 400,000 signatures provincewide. They need to reach 15 per cent of the voters in each of 85 ridings in order to meet the minimum requirement for the select standing committee on legislative initiatives to consider the petition.
The committee would take 90 days to decide whether to recommend draft legislation to achieve decriminalization or refer to the chief electoral officer for an initiative vote.
“We’re doing really well,” Anderson said. “I think we’re on track to hit the goal.”
Anderson admitted the campaign hasn’t been easy to organize due to a lack of volunteers to staff petition booths. Booths have been set up at Desert Hemp Hut and the Kamloops Farmers Market downtown as well as at The Lemonade Stand on Tranquille Road.
Lois Patch, owner of the Hemp Hut, said people have been coming in constantly, wondering if they can add their names, but often there is no one on hand to sign them up.
“It’s too bad, because it’s kind of a good cause,” Patch said. She thinks petitioners should be out in the street more.
“I think they need to move around a little more.”
While he’s optimistic about reaching the goal here, Anderson is less confident about other regions of the province.
“Either way, it’s a worthwhile endeavour and I’m glad to do it,” he said. “Even if it fails, we are changing people’s minds. We’re talking to a lot of people.”
At the same time, he is braced for the consequences of new federal policy that took effect Tuesday.
Health Canada is phasing out an older system that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality.
In its place, large indoor marijuana farms certified by health inspectors will produce, package and distribute a range of standardized weed, all of it sold for whatever price the market will bear. RCMP will also conduct criminal checks on prospective operators. The first sales are expected in the next few weeks, delivered directly by secure courier.
A Health Canada official described the new regime as a “whole other ball game,” but medical marijuana users are crying foul.
“We’re all criminals,” said Anderson, who has grown pot legally under licence for the past decade. “We’re all going to jail.”
He sees it as bullying, a handout to private enterprise, which has estimated the cost of its product to be $9 to $12 a gram. That’s more than four times what it costs licensed users to produce, a price many users will be unable to pay since many are sick and rely on fixed incomes.
“I’m not stopping producing my own marijuana. I’m not going to be paying $12 a gram to some company; I don’t have it,” Anderson said.
A constitutional challenge launched by a Fraser Valley group — the Coalition Against Repeal — represents another possibility in his eyes.
“Unfortunately, to challenge the law in this country, you have to be arrested and charged,” he said. “It will probably be me, too, because I’m not going to stop growing.”
A legal challenge could take up to three years, but coalition organizer Jason Wilcox said the first objective is to obtain an injunction from the federal court that would buy time by restraining the government from rescinding the existing medical pot rules. They’ve so far raised $35,000 toward the $100,000 cost of the initial step.
“Basically, it’s a quarter-million-dollar case to protect what we have a right to consume,” said Wilcox, who is HIV-positive and has use pot medically for 20 years.