A motion calling on the federal government to decriminalize marijuana passed at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention on Wednesday with support from several civic politicians from Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
Submitted by the Victoria suburb of Metchosin, the resolution argued that marijuana prohibition is a “failed policy which has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs.”
The UBCM placed major emphasis on the issue this year, staging a debate Monday featuring former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant, in favour of loosening pot laws, and University of the Fraser Valley criminologist Darryl Plecas opposed.
After a lineup of speakers on the impact of marijuana grow ops and related crime on communities, a show of hands by hundreds of delegates supported the call for decriminalization.
Metchosin Coun. Moralea Milne reminded delegates that Plant termed pot prohibition “a disastrous and expensive failure of public policy.” She said more than 500,000 B.C. residents have smoked marijuana, but she doesn’t support its use.
“Personally, I’d rather have a martini, and I’m allowed to, because we changed that very wrong prohibition stance that we had,” Milne said.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Janis Elkerton made up her mind to support the resolution on Monday after hearing from the experts. Her mother used cannabis 20 years ago when she was suffering from cancer.
“Prohibition has never worked in history,” said Elkerton, adding she was in favour of regulating and taxing marijuana.
“It’s caused more violence.”
Although civic politicians in B.C. have finally taken a stand on marijuana, many believe it’s merely symbolic. Drug laws are a federal responsibility and the Conservative government has no interest in the debate.
Elkerton, though, doesn’t believe the motion was futile.
“We often ask for things we don’t have jurisdiction over. Somebody has to start the conversation,” she said.
In Maple Ridge, councillors Corisa Bell and Mike Morden also voted in support of decriminalization, citing policing costs, organized crime and violence.
“This issue is dividing us and creating barriers, as well as causing financial strains on police and municipal government,” said Bell. “Policing is one of the biggest part of our budgets.”
Morden noted the UBCM motion addressed “only a very small piece of a much larger problem.” He said there are several fixes needed to the current system, including Health Canada’s medical marijuana program, effective consequences for gang members and new laws to keep grow ops out of residential areas.
He also believes the messaging needs to change so people who decide to grow marijuana as a “mortgage helper” get out of the business.
“This is a dangerous business and needs to be stopped in its tracks. You can’t undo the trauma and harm that is happening to our citizens,” Morden said.
Local mayors voted against the resolution, however.
“My logic is that I’m not convinced that doing that will fix some of the other challenges that we’ve got,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Legalizing it won’t solve the issue of organized crime, he added, as it will still be grown for the U.S. market.
“Sometimes we need to think through the implications of a decision. When you talk about the $7 or $8 billion industry it is in B.C., British Columbians are not using that much pot.”
Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters was disappointed over the way the resolution was handled at the UBCM.
“This was a hot topic and due to where it came up on the agenda, time did not allow all interested speakers to speak to it before debate was cut off and a vote called,” she said.
“The question was not to legalize marijuana, but to decriminalization of marijuana. I did not hear enough arguments to persuade me to support the recommendation and do remain concerned as to what the fall out will be from this decision. This is only one step to what I believe will be a very lengthy conversation. I am hopeful that all stakeholders will be able to weigh in before anything is finalized that is police, courts, doctors.”
It’s likely a meaningless resolution, as far as the federal Conservative government is concerned.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp said Thursday from Ottawa that it’s not clear what the UBCM resolution means, although it sounds like B.C. cities and towns want to decriminalize and tax and regulate the drug.
“So it sounds to me like they’re talking about legalizing marijuana.
“Our government has no intention of legalizing marijuana. We don’t believe marijuana is a harmless substance and we won’t legalize any harmful drug.”
Kamp said there’s “considerable evidence” about the effects of marijuana, adding that researchers at Duke University recently found that chronic marijuana use affects intelligence, memory and attention span of young people.
“We need to take those into account,” he added.
“The short answer is our government has no intent of legalizing marijuana.”