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Shannon Corregan: Sensible B.C. should celebrate success

The Dec. 5 deadline has passed and canvassers for Sensible B.C. didn’t get the number of signatures they needed to instigate a referendum on marijuana.

The Dec. 5 deadline has passed and canvassers for Sensible B.C. didn’t get the number of signatures they needed to instigate a referendum on marijuana. But nobody on board the Cannabus seems to be viewing this as a failure — quite the opposite, in fact.

Sensible B.C. team members are taking this time to celebrate their successes, and well they should, for their inability to spark a referendum on the first go is hardly a setback.

To recap, Sensible B.C. needed to gather 300,000 signatures in three months to trigger a referendum on marijuana reform, and they handed in more than 200,000. In a province with a voting population of 3.1 million, that number is nothing to sneeze at. As Dana Larsen pointed out in an open letter to his volunteers and supporters, we’ve had referendums with less, for less.

The 2002 attempt to introduce electoral reform in B.C. gathered 98,000 signatures, less than half of what Sensible B.C. produced, yet this was enough to cause our province to create the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform and spark referendums in 2005 and 2009.

More important, however, Sensible B.C. needed signatures from 10 per cent of voters in each of B.C.’s 85 electoral districts. This requirement creates a particularly onerous set of administrative hurdles for any group hoping to bring about a referendum.

It’s worth pointing out that this challenge wasn’t faced in Washington or Colorado, the two U.S. states that beat B.C. to decriminalizing marijuana via referendum — and it still took them two tries in Washington.

Last week, I spoke with Cam Birge, regional organizer for Vancouver Island, and he’s anything but glum about what Sensible B.C. has achieved in 2013. Lessons were learned and strategies will be honed, but the real takeaway has been that the number of signatures gathered is a undeniable indication of how many British Columbians want to have a democratic conversation about reforming our drug laws.

I have several friends who didn’t sign the petition out of vaguely defined but very real fear. One friend believes in marijuana reform, but works with children, and is worried that signing on with Sensible B.C. might harm her chances of future employment, regardless of how unfair such discrimination would be. “Does that make me a bad person?” she asked with a sigh.

Of course not! Absolutely not! This anxiety is evidence of exactly why marijuana reform needs to be addressed properly and democratically, through, say, a referendum. Supporting the call for a referendum simply means that a person is exercising their right to call out our current drugs laws for being outmoded, uneconomical and unfair. Supporting the referendum doesn’t mean that you smoke marijuana, nor even that you approve of its use, but simply that you can see that our system is broken. Cam estimates that about 35 per cent of Victorians who signed the petition were people who hadn’t and wouldn’t use marijuana, but who simply understood that we can do better.

Calling for a referendum isn’t a statement about decriminalization, it’s a statement about democracy. The fact that some people are worried about supporting the referendum for fear of some kind of punishment is symptomatic of the truly backward way we have criminalized marijuana use.

We’d never consider denying employment to someone who enjoys a beer with dinner, or who smokes a cigarette. The real danger of marijuana lies in its illegality, not its use.

So what’s next for Sensible B.C.? According to Cam, his volunteers are raring to go again, although they’re going to take a break for some analysis in the near future. Round 2 will see them starting off with 4,500 volunteers, thousands more than they had in September. Next time will be bigger and stronger — and there will be a next time, just as there was in Washington.

The passion and enthusiasm of Sensible B.C.’s organizers and volunteers has raised an enormous amount of awareness about marijuana reform, as well as a population that has become increasingly educated about the negative effects of criminalization, all of which Sensible B.C. will be able to capitalize on next time.

It’s worth pointing out that Victoria has done its part: Our electoral districts raised well more than the necessary amount of signatures. Pat on the back, Victoria, pat on the back.

The foundations have been laid for a groundbreaking movement.