B.C. civic leaders continue mostly symbolic push to decriminalize marijuana

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The impact of a decision by British Columbia's civic leaders to support decriminalization of marijuana will be more symbolic than real.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities voted Wednesday for a resolution to push the federal government to decriminalize pot and research was to tax and regulate it.

It's the latest push from B.C. politicians to relax the law around pot. Previously, former mayors from across the political spectrum and former attorneys general have recommended decriminalization.

Marijuana activist Dana Larsen is also trying a back-door decriminalization tack, gathering names on a petition for a referendum under B.C. initiative legislation to change the provincial Police Act that would require police not to enforce the law against simple possession and use.

[ Related: B.C. pot advocate seeks petition on decriminalization ]

But the issue remains contentious in the home of B.C. Bud. Proponents hail the resolution but opponents argue decriminalization won't solve the problems created by the illegal trafficking and use of marijuana, worth an estimated $7 billion a year.

"I think it's about being progressive," said Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun, according to The Canadian Press. "I'm not going to judge someone about whether or not they smoke pot. I tried it when I was younger and I turned out OK."

Former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant told delegates meeting in Victoria that decriminalizing pot would help reduce the power of the province's violent gangs.

But Tom Siddon, a former minister in Brian Mulroney's cabinet who now serves as a regional district director in the Okanagan, argued decriminalization won't deter gangs from selling pot and violently protecting the trade, CP reported.

"This is not a remedy," Siddon told the group's annual convention. "It's going to aggravate the temptations of young people to move from marijuana, which may be more harmless than a few bottles of beer, to being hooked on heroin, cocaine and the chemical designer drugs."

[ Related: Canadians among top buyers, sellers on illegal drug website Silk Road ]

The resolutions committee, commenting on the proposal, noted that between 80 and 95 per cent of B.C. pot is smuggled into the United States, where it remains illegal.

And the Conservative government is unlikely to pay much attention to the wishes of B.C. municipal politicians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been firm that he will never agree to decriminalization, CBC News reported last year.

"No, it will not happen under our government," Harper told a news conference last November. "We're very concerned about the spread of drugs in the country and the damage it's doing and as you know we have legislation before the House [of Commons] to crack down."