Campaign for Referendum on Marijuana Decriminalization Struggling as Deadline Looms

Despite months of collecting signatures, it appears the campaign to decriminalize marijuana in BC has stalled, at least for now. SensibleBC, the organization spearheading the efforts, has been campaigning for a provincial referendum on the issue. Their draft legislation, The Sensible Policing Act would decriminalize marijuana, with an eye to full legalization.

Since the legality of marijuana and other controlled substances falls under federal jurisdiction, and is outlined in the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), the Sensible Policing Act would take a different approach, using the provinces’ jurisdiction over the “administration of justice.” The proposed Act would modify the provincial Police Act, and direct that provincial police resources not be used to enforce current laws related to simple possession and use of cannabis by adults. Where any resources are used for that purpose, the Act would require that police forces report and justify such use to the Minister of Justice, and that the report be published. Further, the Act would direct that the Minister write to the Attorney General of Canada seeking an exemption from the CDSA so that British Columbia may tax and regulate cannabis, and require the Minister to establish a commission to study the issue. In relation to use by minors, the Act would treat unlawful possession of cannabis similar to that of alcohol, as an offence under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act.

In September, Elections BC confirmed that the Sensible Policing Act is within the jurisdiction of the province, and that a referendum could be held if the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act were met. The campaign’s stated goal was to collect 400,000 signatures between September 9th and December 5th, 2013. As of Monday December 2nd, the campaign was significantly shy of that target, having collected only 150,000 signatures of the required 310,000 it needed to trigger a referendum. While the organizers have until 4pm on December 9th to present the signatures to Elections BC, it seems unlikely that they will be able to reach their target, despite the efforts of 4500 volunteers who have been canvasing throughout the province. One of the major challenges to the campaign is that the signatures cannot come from just a few ridings – they must include at least 10% of registered voters in each of BC’s 85 electoral ridings.

Dana Larsen, Director of SensibleBC vowed that the organization would continue to push for the implementation of the Sensible Policing Act, saying “Sensible BC is here to stay…You can be quite sure we’re going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don’t succeed this time. We’re not going away.”