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Pot vote south of border piques interest in B.C.
B.C. pot reform advocates are celebrating Washington state’s historic vote this week to legalize and tax marijuana, saying it adds momentum to their campaign for change here.
Initiative 502 passed with 55 per cent of voters in favour, making Washington the first U.S. state to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults, along with Colorado, where a similar vote also passed.
“Tell everyone I’m elated. It’s the biggest day of our movement ever,” Marc Emery, B.C.’s imprisoned Prince of Pot, tweeted from his U.S. jail cell.
His wife, Jodie Emery, celebrated the win in Seattle — where her husband was indicted for selling pot seeds — with Washington campaigners, including travel guru Rick Steves and the U.S. prosecutor-turned-reformer who put Marc behind bars.
It’s still unclear if the U.S. federal government will allow the state to carry out the plan to license marijuana production and tax its sale in authorized stores.
But, observers here say the implications are huge for both the existing B.C. bud industry and the intensifying debate on drug-policy reform.
“American voters are now ahead of Canadian governments on the cannabis file,” said former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant, a high-profile reformer with the Stop the Violence coalition.
“It helps advance the argument for legalization here in B.C..”
Rob Gordon, director of SFU’s school of criminology, said it could spur a more serious consideration of legalization both in B.C. and in other U.S. states if “the sky doesn’t fall” in Washington and the state starts reaping a windfall of weed revenue.
“The dominoes could start toppling,” he said.
Washington estimates it would collect $560 million in the first year from a planned 25 per cent tax on the sale of licensed, regulated marijuana through authorized stores.
“Whether or not their federal government is going to tolerate this remains to be seen,” Gordon said.
If pot possession and sales is allowed in Washington state, Gordon expects a partial collapse of B.C.’s estimated $7-billion-a-year illegal pot industry as growers relocate their operations south of the border to avoid the need to smuggle.
“The operations in B.C. would shrink considerably. They’d be focused entirely on patchy local consumption,” he said.
“It’s a huge step forward,” said B.C. marijuana activist Dana Larsen, who heads the Sensible BC campaign to force a provincial referendum on pot decriminalization using the Recall and Initiative Act.
As with the campaign to defeat the HST, volunteers will have 90 days in the fall of 2014 to get thousands of signatures from every riding of the province to trigger a referendum.
If it passes, the legislature would vote on Larsen’s proposed Sensible Policing Act, which would order an end to police enforcement of simple cannabis possession.
Premier Christy Clark and B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix both say marijuana reform is up to the federal government and the prime minister has said the Conservatives won’t loosen Canada’s drug laws.
But, Larsen argues Ottawa could, if pressured enough, exempt B.C. from federal narcotics laws to enable a regulated and taxed marijuana experiment here.
He said legal pot in Washington helps end the argument the U.S. may “retaliate or freak out” if B.C. reforms its drug laws.
Plant said he prefers full marijuana legalization, rather than the half-step of decriminalization, which doesn’t allow regulation and taxation.
“Full legalization removes the economic incentive for the illegal manufacture and distribution,” Plant said.
“People can get it safer from a retail outlet at a price that is reasonable. That should eliminate substantially all of the economic underpinnings for the organized crime control of the market.
“I’m not saying we’re going to put an end to organized crime,” Plant said.
“I’m saying let’s put an end to that part of organized crime, which is about gunfire in broad daylight in the streets of our cities for control of the cannabis market.
“That would be progress, I think.”
The Washington state vote comes two months after B.C. civic leaders voted to urge the province to decriminalize marijuana and explore methods to regulate and tax it.