Leyne: Ballot vote advances pot agenda

Les Leyne Victoria Times Colonist / Kamloops Daily News
November 17, 2012 01:00 AM

Liberal MLA Doug Horne was Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Thursday representing B.C. at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference.

It's a regular meeting of western provinces and states where officials talk about common concerns.
Marijuana is not on the agenda, Horne said, and he has no plans to bring it up.

But you can bet some hallway chatter will be about the groundbreaking Washington state initiative vote last week that effectively legalizes the recreational use of up to one ounce of pot by adults.

It's the biggest new cross-border issue since the end of Prohibition. It tells you something about how far ahead voters are of their governments that it's not on the conference agenda.

The impact from the decision is already being felt. State prosecutors this week started dismissing simple-possession charges, even before that aspect of the initiative takes legal effect on Dec. 9.

Barring a challenge from the U.S. government, the full effect will take hold a year from now, when Washington state is required to have a commercial marijuana distribution system up and running, complete with a taxation system.

B.C. pot advocate Dana Larsen said that's the date to watch for the birth of a brand-new industry in Washington - pot tourism.

There's not much advantage to travelling south to smoke pot. It's still illegal to consume publicly there. And although simple possession charges are up in B.C., it's blamed on police using that as a fallback charge to roust people suspected of other offences.

As far as recreational users are concerned, there isn't a big enough enforcement difference now to drive B.C. pot smokers across the border.

Larsen said that will change a year from now, when B.C. visitors can experience the novelty of walking into a government-regulated store to legally buy a small amount of pot.

In the meantime, Larsen - who ran unsuccessfully for the B.C. NDP leadership in 2011 - is trying to emulate the Washington organizers of the initiative drive.

He filed an initiative petition with Elections B.C. and got it certified in September. Larsen said an earlier one was ruled invalid, but the "Sensible Policing Act" has been validated for a petition drive starting next week.

But Larsen filed it just to get the approval. Now he is going to withdraw it while he spends the next year building a network of volunteer canvassers. He plans to resubmit the identical bill next summer and start canvassing in September 2013.

The draft bill is an end-run around the fact that federal law dictates pot policy. It would amend the provincial Police Act to stipulate that police resources will no longer be used to enforce the law against simple possession and use of pot by adults.

B.C. requires signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in all 85 ridings, which amounts to about 320,000. The successful petition in 2010 to repeal the HST easily surpassed that, with 560,000 names.

A separate campaign run by Stop the Violence B.C. continues. That group has endorsements from former politicians, police officers and academics. The next round of validation is expected to come from B.C. business leaders. The group is also keen to make marijuana legalization an issue in two different arenas - the next provincial election and the federal Liberal leadership race.

Larsen's petition and Stop the Violence B.C.'s push are pursuing the same goal through different means. But the Washington initiative is a huge boost for both.


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