The campaign to decriminalize marijuana in B.C. is making several stops in Surrey next week.
Its goal is to get residents to sign a petition that would put the issue up to a province-wide referendum.
Headed by Dana Larsen of Sensible BC, the campaign seeks to gather enough signatures in a petition to the province to force a referendum similar to the successful Fight HST campaign of 2010.
To do so, Larsen is required to gather signatures from at least 10 per cent of the province’s registered voters, equating to 360,000.
The petition will kick off on Sept. 9, after which organizers will have 90 days to collect the signatures needed. In the meantime, Larsen is travelling around the province to raise awareness of the issue, with Surrey being his main target for the final week.
“We have a lot of people excited about this campaign, many are looking forward to getting involved and active in their communities,” he said. “There’s certainly a lot of districts in Surrey with people who could support us, so that’s why we’re doing these events here.”
According to Larsen, the goal of the referendum would be to decriminalize marijuana as legalization falls under federal jurisdiction. However, Larsen is hopeful that decriminalization would demonstrate the desire for legalization to the rest of the country.
“So what the province can do is use our jurisdiction over policing to get the police to stop making arrests over marijuana possession,” said Larsen.
“The ultimate goal is to legalize marijuana and have a regulated system, but that has to be done at the federal level.”
When asked about the chances for success, Larsen said he’s confident the campaign will secure the signatures needed, looking at the HST campaign as inspiration.
“They showed that this can be done and the people of British Columbia can stand up and use their democratic tools to make a difference in our province,” he said.
“And this issue definitely has a better pull and more support across Canada and the province than the HST campaign did, so our challenge is to convert that support into action and get people off the couch and active in this campaign.”
Finally, Larsen is hopeful that citizens will take the campaign seriously and prove to the rest of the country that British Columbians can get things done, even if the parties in power can’t.
“We certainly watched in Washington and Colorado, they did not have the support of Democrats or Republicans, but they had the support of the people and we’re looking at this the same way. The party leadership of the NDP and Liberals in B.C. have not endorsed us and, ultimately, we’re not really seeking their endorsement. We don’t have to rely on the whims of politicians, we can do this with people power.”
Larsen will be in Surrey three days this week to discuss the campaign, the first stop being Tuesday, Sept. 3 at the Fleetwood Library at 7 p.m. Larsen will also be meeting with the public on Thursday, Sept. 5 at the Guildford Library at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Ocean Park Library at 7 p.m. The campaign will then kick off on Sept. 9.
Surrey Board of Trade wants status quo on pot
But just as Larsen is set to tour the city, the Surrey Board of Trade has come out in opposition of the movement, citing concerns over the impact that legalized marijuana may have on business.
“One of the things that we always take a look at is making sure we support business and we wanted to make sure our workplaces weren’t affected by outside influences on things like productivity, efficiency,” said SBoT CEO Anita Huberman.
“In terms of marijuana being legalized, we came to the conclusion that it would impact the workplace, that it would compromise productivity and in the end it would impact our economy.”
Citing situations where workers may show up to work high, the board looked at instances where employees might operate machinery while impaired, the inability to complete tasks and generally lower efficiency.
“Another point made was when it comes to marijuana, it could lead to other drug uses,” said Huberman.
“With alcohol it depends on the individual in terms of how they respond to that drink,” she said. And while alcohol may lead to addiction, Huberman is concerned marijuana has been “proven to be a starter drug” and its use might lead to users taking up other illicit drugs.
“It then goes to the question of if you would legalize cocaine?”
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