Last week, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted in support of the decriminalization and taxation of marijuana.
This vote was in accordance with the principles of the Sensible Policing Act put forward by the Sensible B.C. Campaign, which aims to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, regulate its use (i.e., prohibit minors from using it, just as we do with tobacco and alcohol) and call on the federal government to allow B.C. to investigate how to best tax it for revenue.
Many of the articles covering the UBCM vote described it as a "controversial" motion - perhaps because this topic has been controversial in the past - but you have only to look at the latest Angus Reid poll to see that a majority of British Columbians support the legalization of marijuana possession (as do a majority of Canadians, though the percentage of supporters is higher on the West Coast than in Canada as a whole).
Simultaneously, British Columbians overwhelmingly oppose the legalization of any other drug, such as cocaine, meth or heroin.
Last time I discussed this topic, I approached it from a casual "why not?" perspective. "Relax, we're already a marijuana culture," I said, as I pointed out the hypocrisy of outlawing cannabis rather than alcohol or tobacco, both of which are far more dangerous substances.
But there's a stronger argument to be made for the legalization of marijuana, which is that our current system of prohibition is not only not working, but is actively hurting our society.
Several days before the UBCM convention, more than 500 Victorians gathered at Alix Goolden Hall to listen to a panel of experts speak about the Sensible B.C. Campaign. The panel included Dr. Evan Wood of Stop the Violence B.C., Mayor John Ranns of Metchosin, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, lawyer Kirk Tousaw and David Bratzer from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
They didn't speak about the benefits of decriminalizing marijuana, but rather of the harm that our current policy of prohibition is doing to our province.
Ultimately, they concluded, our current system is expensive, dangerous, ineffective and unethical.
Expensive: As Bratzer pointed out, municipal governments are concerned with rising police budgets.
Officers spend time and energy enforcing cannabis prohibition to no effect. Pot remains easy to obtain, its quality and purity have steadily increased and neither supply nor demand have been curbed, regardless of how much money municipalities throw at the problem.
Dangerous: Prohibition does not make communities safer, argued Wood. Criminal organizations make massive profits selling marijuana, which results in an endemic cycle of trafficking and violence. The real danger of marijuana lies not in its effects but in its illegality.
Ineffective: Ranns does not approve of marijuana, but observed that B.C. leads the way in marijuana-related arrest rates in Canada. Our drug laws haven't achieved their intended results (i.e., deterrence). For a society to achieve voluntary compliance, its laws need to be seen as rational. If they aren't, then they won't deter people, and people will violate them. Law violation hurts our society, Ranns argued, so it's best to have laws that make sense.
Unethical: Tousaw and Simons observed that prohibition victimizes people who are already vulnerable, those who are young or poor or dependent on government support. Should marijuana use result in a criminal record? Should you lose your job or job prospects over it? If you're on probation, should you be sent back to jail if you're caught smoking pot? Families living on the edge can be broken apart by drug-related incarceration.
It's hard to see how prohibition helps people.
The bottom line is, do we think that recreational marijuana users - not traffickers, not growers, but users (which is a broad demographic encompassing people of all ages and walks of life) - are criminals? Judging from the UBCM vote, our municipal leaders say no.
British Columbians are more united on this issue than on almost any other, and we stand poised to lead Canada in this area. Quite simply, we understand that the criminalization of marijuana use is a bad policy.
The UBCM's resolution won't change our current legislation, but let us hope it will galvanize us to speak up against a law that a majority of British Columbians recognize to be ineffective and unjust.