Les Leyne: Pot resolution sets B.C. on a new path

Mainstream B.C. stood up in public Wednesday and moved the marijuana debate much closer to decriminalization than ever before.

The resolution passed at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria is the clearest indication yet of how far the "get tough with criminal pot smokers" stance has eroded.

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More than 500 delegates considered a motion that declared the status quo a failure and urged decriminalization of marijuana, coupled with research on regulation and taxation.

After a passionate debate, they passed it by open show of hands. It was endorsed by such a clear margin - probably 60 per cent plus - they didn't even bother to count the votes.

It's just a recommendation to senior governments, so it has no legal effect. Lots of UBCM resolutions get ignored, and this one could get placed in a drawer as well. But it's an unmistakable sign of which way the wind is blowing.

These were locally elected officials responsible for communities all over B.C. They are the collective personification of the establishment, and they showed loud and clear that they don't buy the discredited establishment line any more.

As noted Wednesday, the marijuana movement has been campaigning for decades for something like this. Advocates - most of them ardent users - got a lot of sympathy and contributed to the changing mood. But it was the carefully engineered social policy campaign started by Stop the Violence B.C. that made this latest breakthrough happen.

That illustrious group of health professionals, academics and policy experts orchestrated a series of endorsements by mayors, former attorneys general, public health officials and others over the past year.

The UBCM resolution is the latest, and the most important. The two groups - the zealots and the professors - will continue working on separate, parallel tracks. But the focus will shift next year back to the advocates, when their organizing starts on a drive for the biggest endorsement of all - votes by individual British Columbians.

The petition for a referendum vote calling for a law explicitly ordering police not to lay simple possession charges will need about 400,000 signatures. Wednesday's resolution shows a lot of people will take it seriously.

Speakers covered all the bases during the debate.

The resolution originated with Metchosin Coun. Moralea Milne, who cited former attorney general Geoff Plant's view that the status quo is a "disastrous expensive failure."

She said: "I'm not advocating marijuana use for anybody, I think a walk in the woods is a way better way to clear your head. Personally, I'd rather have a martini. And I'm allowed to, because we changed that very wrong prohibition stance that we had."

But Okanagan representative Tom Siddon (a former Tory cabinet minister) advocated continued prosecution of the '70s-era "war on drugs."

"Unless we can stop the international abuse of drugs, then this planet is headed for a disastrous situation," he said, citing Singapore's draconian drug laws as a good example to follow.

"The remedy is to stand for principle and make the penalties fit the danger."

Also opposed was North Cowichan Coun. Al Siebring, who was just elected president of the B.C. Conservative Party.

"If we're going to start rewriting laws based on laws that are failed, maybe we should just get rid of the Criminal Code, because murder is against the law and people are still killing each other."

Opponents of the resolution were on much more solid ground when they questioned whether decriminalization would halt gang involvement and smuggling.

It probably won't. The hypothetical road map from decriminalization of marijuana to the elimination of gangsters organizing its conversion to incoming cocaine from the U.S. hasn't been very clearly laid out.

But it would stop the criminalization of a sizable number of people - many of them young - for an offence that large numbers of people think is a joke.

(Want to get an easy laugh during a speech? Make a reference to "B.C. bud.")

Opponents accused the decriminalization side of enticing votes by referring to "taxation" in the motion. There's no question dollar signs were dancing in the eyes of some delegates. One quoted the RCMP estimate that dope is a $7-billion enterprise and extrapolated a $700-million-a-year revenue stream from decriminalization.

That may be wishful thinking, because there are so many unknowns on the path B.C. is now set to explore. The only sure thing - the deciding point for many delegates - is that the status quo isn't working.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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