After a passionate debate and a close vote, delegates to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention passed a motion calling on the federal government to decriminalize marijuana.
The UBCM placed major emphasis on the debate this year, staging a debate Monday featuring former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant, in favour of loosening pot laws, and University of the Fraser Valley criminologist Darryl Plecas opposed. After a lineup of speakers on the impact of marijuana grow ops on communities and crime impact, a show of hands by hundreds of delegates supported the call for decriminalization.
Metchosin councillor Moralea Milne reminded delegates that Plant termed pot prohibition “a disastrous and expensive failure of public policy.” She said more than 500,000 B.C. residents have smoked marijuana, but she doesn’t support its use.
“Personally I’d rather have a martini, and and I’m allowed to, because we changed that very wrong prohibition stance that we had,” Milne said.
Okanagan-Similkameen area director Tom Siddon, a former federal cabinet minister, said his local police reject decriminalization.
“I think we’ve been frying too many brains,” Siddon said. “It’s going to aggravate the temptation of young people to move from marijuana, which may well be more harmless than a few bottles of beer, to being hooked on heroin, cocaine and the chemical designer drugs.”
Prince George city councillor Brian Skakun drew laughter with his comment: “I tried it when I was younger, I turned out OK.” Turning serious, he said the costs extend to police and courts weighed down with marijuana cases rather than “real criminals.”
Abbotsford councillor Henry Braun agreed with Siddon.
“We produce about 1.5 million pounds of marijuana in British Columbia,” Braun said. “We consume about 185,000 pounds, so the vast majority of marijuana is being exported to the U.S. and other places.”
Port Moody councillor Bob Elliott said his “quaint, safe city” has seen three gang-related murders in the past six months. He pleaded for support for decriminalization.
Coquitlam councillor Terry O’Neill called decriminalization “the worst of all worlds,” protecting people from simple possession charges while leaving large-scale growing and sales in the hands of criminals.
Nelson councillor Robin Cherbo said sparing young recreational users from prosecution is worth it, and even outright legalization won’t stop the criminal trade as long as pot remains illegal in the U.S.
Cariboo Regional District director Joan Sorley reminded delegates that grow ops are destructive to communities and dangerous to police and fire departments.
“They’re huge operations,” Sorley said. “If we decriminalize it, we take away the tool that the RCMP has to try and shut them down and help keep our neighbourhood safe.”