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Shannon Corregan: Marijuana petition still needs support

It might not seem like it, with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s amusing cocaine hijinks dominating Canadian and American news channels, but these have been an exciting few weeks for British Columbia.

It might not seem like it, with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s amusing cocaine hijinks dominating Canadian and American news channels, but these have been an exciting few weeks for British Columbia.

We’re mere weeks away from the cutoff date for Sensible B.C.’s campaign to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Sensible B.C. has until Dec. 5 to gather the signatures it needs to instigate a provincewide referendum on the issue, and with only 15 days to go, the pressure is on.

The team seems to be handling the pressure with grace, however; indeed, one of the hallmarks of Sensible B.C.’s work so far has been its professionalism. Dana Larsen and his dedicated team have run a mature and respectful campaign, even in the face of red tape, resistance and a few instances of police interference.

The professionalism has made obvious what most of us already knew. Those who support the decriminalization of marijuana are not the stereotypical slackers and junkies of pop-culture imagination, but rational, passionate people who want to change what they see as an unjust policy. Men and women of all ages and all walks of life have been involved in this campaign. We’ve seen them working on our streets in all types of weather, soliciting signatures and raising awareness.

Polls have shown that a majority of British Columbians are in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana, but Sensible B.C. is still falling short of the 400,000 signatures it needs. This speaks, I think, to the fact that those of us in favour of decriminalization view the issue rather casually.

For most of us, it’s simply common sense to decriminalize marijuana when tobacco, which is far more dangerous, is sold legally. Anything else would be hypocrisy, right? This isn’t an issue that is restricted to people of a certain age, socioeconomic background or minimum number of piercings.

A majority of British Columbians also oppose the legalization of harder drugs like cocaine, meth and heroin, which indicates that while we’re not down with hypocrisy, we’re also not down with a free-for-all drug policy. Most of us simply want a sensible drug policy that includes the legalization and reasonable regulation of marijuana.

But the sheer workaday logic of this approach is, I think, the reason we’re not as fired up about the referendum as we could be — or indeed should be.

In reality, the criminalization of marijuana isn’t simply hypocritical. It’s expensive, ineffective and unethical, and we should be passionate about changing it.

Police officers spend time and energy enforcing our marijuana laws, but despite the fact that B.C. leads in marijuana-related arrest rates, all this hard work has failed to act as a significant deterrent. The money that our governments spend on enforcement hasn’t resulted in a decrease in marijuana-related arrests or crimes. At the end of the day, despite our best efforts, supply and demand for marijuana remain high (no pun intended). This strategy isn’t working.

The criminalization of marijuana not only fails to make communities safer (yes, let’s encourage a profitable endemic cycle of trafficking and violence!) but actively punishes people who are already vulnerable.

Under our current system, marijuana users are criminals. Imagine if having a beer or smoking a cigarette could cause you to lose your job or your scholarship, or violate probation, or interfere with your government support, or provide grounds for your incarceration.

As it stands, marijuana is harmful to our society not because it’s a dangerous substance, but because it’s an illegal substance.

We’re looking at a situation where some of the people who buy and use marijuana are privileged enough to avoid the dangers of its criminalization, while people who are young, old, dependent, poor or on probation bear the costs of this policy, because they are already vulnerable.

The utter inequality of this setup is indicative of how archaic, ineffective and just plain bad our current policy truly is.

So if you’re one of the majority of British Columbians who’s theoretically on board with the decriminalization of marijuana, but isn’t sure it’s important enough to do much about, I encourage you to think differently. Criminalization might not be hurting you, but it is hurting us.