OUR VIEW: Can pot reform succeed in B.C.?

Drive to create a marijuana referendum could help to get voting-adverse young adults more engaged in the political life of B.C.

B.C. is famed around the world for the quality of its marijuana, and people here buy, sell, grow and consume it mostly without fear of serious consequences from the law.

Elections B.C. has given approval in principle Dana Larsen’s initiative petition to amend the Police Act. More specifically, Larsen wants to decriminalize marijuana possession – a reminder that pot remains illegal, and unlike our neighbour in Washington state, our province and country remain far away from laws that take drug profits away from criminals.

Any move to shake up drugs laws in this country is seen as a good thing. But pot smokers shouldn’t have a victory toke yet – it’s not clear this initiative will even get off the ground, and, if it does, will the province give it the time of day?

Similar to the ultimately successful drive to oust the HST, Larsen and his supporters need to collect signatures of at least 10 per cent of elected voters in each of the 85 ridings.

And if they do manage that, then it will be forwarded to a committee which will either send a draft bill to the Legislature for debate or to the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct a referendum.

The gross mishandling of the HST by the Liberals made it easy to whip up voter anger, and voter turnout. Many people in B.C. may support laxer laws around possessing marijuana (or buying, selling and growing for that matter), but the issue is unlikely to inflame the same passions as a government perceived as dishonest and shifting tax burdens from business to citizens.

The drive for a possible marijuana referendum could help to get voting-adverse young adults more engaged in the political life of B.C. At the risk of glib stereotyping, hopefully the referendum advocates stay focused and organized, and aren’t smoking what they are trying to legalize.

If a change to marijuana possession law were to succeed anywhere in Canada, it should be B.C. But even if Larsen and his allies win, the victory will be non-binding and symbolic – the B.C. Liberals don’t have to support the vote.

B.C. may have a permissive pot culture, but this isn’t the U.S., where, for better or worse, voter propositions are binding. And unlike Canadian provinces, states like Washington and Colorado will defy their federal government based on the will of the people.