The politics of pot

Despite coming up well short of the required 400,000 signatures during last year’s efforts to force a referendum on the decriminalization of marijuana, Sensible BC is in no way giving up.

In fact, Sensible BC leader Dana Larsen believes that there is tremendous opportunity ahead on a number of fronts, including the municipal and federal elections. Municipalities across British Columbia elect new Mayors and Councils this November and a federal election is coming in 2015. The Bulletin spoke with Larsen this week on why he is feeling optimistic that changes are coming to marijuana laws.

Given the difficulties involved in meeting the criteria for a referendum — Larsen says B.C.’s requirements are the most complicated in the world — he says another referendum drive would be a last resort.

“Even if we had all the signatures required now, voting wouldn’t happen until 2017,” Larsen said.

It will be better, he believes to focus on upcoming elections.

“If we can see change federally, the province will follow,” he said.

He also believes municipal governments have a large part to play and how a candidate stands on legalization or decriminalization is important.

“Things are very different city to city. Looking at Vancouver, with dozens of cannabis dispensaries and very few arrests, we see how important the right Mayor can be. In other cities, you try to open a dispensary and it gets shut down. There are higher rates of possession charges. The local mayor and council have a big influence on police attitudes.

“Also municipal politicians passed a resolution at the UBCM to support decriminalization. We’d like to see Councilors move forward and keep the pressure on. Municipal governments have a huge impact.

“More cities in BC should be following Vancouver’s example, and making pot their lowest priority. Municipal elections are crucial for us ­— we can’t pass up this chance to achieve on-the-ground change.

Larsen says that with municipal elections usually having low voter turnout, an organized group can have an opportunity to make a difference.

As for federally, he says that if the Conservative party remains in power there will be no chance for decriminalization or legalization in Canada.

“With the NDP supporting decriminalization, and the Liberal and Green Parties pushing hard for legalization, marijuana is going to be an election issue — no matter what.

“We need to use our team to beat the Conservatives in BC, which is a key election battleground.

“We’ve got the strength to be active in every part of the province. We must identify the most cannabis-friendly candidates who have the best chance of winning in each riding, and then use our team to help get those people elected.

“We’ve grown into quite a large organization now, and we can have a real impact on the election results if we use our considerable resources wisely.

“Whatever the election results next year, we’ll keep fighting until the law is changed and cannabis prohibition is ended.”

The other issue is what is happening in the U.S. with marijuana. As more and more states ease up on marijuana laws things are bound to change in Canada, Larsen says.

“Twenty-four states now have at least legalized medical pot. Those trends have to make it easier for Canada.”

Larsen says he hates to use the word ‘inevitable’ as nothing comes easily. Changing marijuana laws will require hard work.

But he believes Sensible BC has a strong organization. The group will be hosting its first convention in Vancouver this fall.

“It’s going to be fun and interesting,” Larsen said. “We are looking to get about 200 people. It’s our first chance to get together since our fall campaign. It will be a good reunion for campaign leaders and a chance to hone our skills.”

By that, Larsen means improving canvassing tactics, campaign management and communications. There are also several guest speakers line up including recently released pot activist Mark Emery.

For more information on the convention and the Sensible BC campaign, go to


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