Experts, police at odds about effect lifting drug laws will have on reducing organized crime
B.C. municipal leaders voted Wednesday for a resolution that calls for the decriminalization of marijuana, but they’re facing a major hurdle: convincing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to change the law.
Harper has said previously he’s not interested. But former B.C. attorney-general Geoff Plant urged delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities earlier this week to join a “growing chorus of voices” across Canada to show the prime minister that across the country, “people are calling for change.”
While pot decriminalization falls under the purview of the federal government, he said, B.C. municipalities “all govern and live with this disastrous failure of public policy.”
The resolution, put forward by Metchosin District Coun. Moralea Milne, calls for the UBCM to lobby the “appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.”
It would apply to simple possession of cannabis.
The vote followed a lengthy debate earlier this week in which some experts, including Plant, argued the prohibition on pot is a failed policy that has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs.
But others, including law officials, countered decriminalizing marijuana would have little effect on eliminating organized crime, or the $7-billion market for the drug, especially with an unquenchable demand for it in the U.S.
A similar division was seen among local government leaders Wednesday.
While Lions Bay Mayor Brenda Broughton suggested organized crime in marijuana is a multi-billion-dollar business that “comes with guns and roses,” Al Siebring, a North Cowichan councillor, said decriminalization won’t make much difference.
Siebring said some members of his community make between $700,000 and $1 million in revenue from marijuana and won’t just give up their trade when a new law is passed.
“If you think for one minute these people are going to legitimize and start filling out tax forms, you’re out of your mind,” he said.
“This thing has implications, folks, think it through.”
The resolution suggests that based on current police information, B.C. is responsible for 40 per cent of the marijuana produced in Canada; between 80 and 95 per cent of pot produced in this country is exported illegally into the U.S. and traded for more potent drugs like cocaine or guns; and about 585,000 people in B.C. regularly use the drug.
“This shows that although this is a federal law, it’s municipalities that bear the brunt of paying for those laws,” marijuana activist Dana Larsen said after the vote. “When we’re talking about decriminalization, you want to take the major users off the front lines in the war on drugs.”
Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Tom Siddon, now a director with the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District, agreed the move is a knee-jerk reaction, noting the biggest problem is that the courts aren’t dealing with those who are trafficking the drug.
Sgt. Dave Williams, an RCMP drug enforcement officer, said B.C. pot is a highly sought-after “commodity” and decriminalization will just push organized criminals underground.
Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine at the University of B.C., hailed Wednesday’s vote as a “symbolic gesture” in the bid to stop a trade in which $2.7 billion annually goes to organized crime.
He noted while all sides acknowledge the effects and harms of this policy, those opposed to decriminalization are citing “hypothetical” results and using the demand in the U.S. as a red herring. Thirteen U.S. states have already decriminalized pot, he said, while another three are considering regulating the drug.
“It will have a profound impact on B.C.,” he said. “We have been living with the violent, unintended consequences of marijuana.
“It’s certainly not too late. It’s absurd we’ve been flushing time and money down the toilet … this decision is long overdue.”