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Coalition for the legalization and regulation of pot successfully creating discussion
The Stop the Violence BC (STVBC) campaign, asking municipal mayors to sign a petition to have the government legalize and regulate marijuana, may work with or without the signature of Nelson mayor John Dooley.
That's because the objective of the campaign is to get people talking about marijuana and the impact it is having on our communities, said Stop the Violence BC coalition member Dr. Evan Wood.
STVBC is a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials, and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in BC and the growth of organized crime and related violence.
STVBC is calling for cannabis to be governed by a strict regulatory framework aimed at limiting use while also starving organized crime of the profits they currently reap as a result of prohibition.
Wood is the co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and University of British Columbia professor in the Department of Medicine.
"We want to encourage discussion at all levels of government," said Wood during a phone interview with The Nelson Daily.
"This is happening all around in all major communities in BC and most mayors and councils have their heads buried in the sand. We're not even talking about it.
"So a debate that brings evidence to the table will ultimately lead to the conclusion that the status quo is totally ineffective and more prohibition won't help. So debate is a good thing and essentially what we're hoping is that we can get a vigirous and informed debate happening at the Union of BC Municipalities when mayors from across the province are together."
And that is precisely what is happening.
During the Monday, June 11 regular City of Nelson council meeting, Dooley and his fellow city councillors had a lengthy discussion on the matter after councillor Donna Macdonald introduced a motion to have Dooley and the city council support the STVBC campaign with a letter to the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and to the provincial and federal governments.
After much debate the motion was defeated.
During the conversation, Dooley stated there was not enough research done on the subject and there were "too many holes" in the current data.
"This is a decision being made on the basis of one website (STVBC) that I went through with the police chief and there are holes in it you could drive a tank through," he said during the meeting.
To date eight BC mayors have signed the petition.
City councils from Enderby, North Vancouver, Vancouver, Vernon and Victoria have also passed motions supporting the STVBC.
If marijuana prohibition was lifted
The goal of STVBC is to have marijuana treated much like cigarettes and alcohol are treated today -- strictly regulated, age restricted and taxed.
Wood said that by talking about marijuana legalization and regulation at the municipal level, it will likely spur on conversation at the provincial and federal levels as well, which would then create change.
"Three basic messages of Stop the Violence BC is simply that marijuana prohibition has not achieved the stated objectives and the government's own data showing how the price of marijuana has been coming down, the potency of marijuana has been going up and the free and easy availability of marijuana to young people is so much so that it is easier for them to obtain than alcohol and tobacco," said Wood.
"The second (issue) is of course all the unintended harms and the real need to educate British Columbians that every time that they see a massive grow operation or a home invasion or hydro theft or gang violence related to the drug industry that this is a natural consequence of the current policies. It's just the same as Al Capone and all the gangsterism during alcohol prohibition.
"The third thing is that there is a vast science to show that regulatory tools, after they've been applied for different cycle active drugs, can greatly influence peoples use of them.
"And really there is a strong belief in the scientific community that the strict regulation of marijuana under a public health framework would not only wage economic war on organized crime and be able to brutally defund these groups that use those resources to engage in other illegal activities, like the importation of cocaine, but would also generate tax revenue and better protect young people from the free and easy access to marijuana that they currently have."
If this discussion is not continued and no change comes, Wood predicts crime will only increase as the demand for the drug increases.
"As long as there is demand there will always be supply," said Wood.
"As taxation and regulation occurs in the United States and legal production systems being there that will obviously influence the value of marijuana grown domestically.
"Those types of economic stresses and the toughening of the laws against marijuana production in Canada will likely have the effect of making it much more entwined with organized crime."
If marijuana is legalized and regulated, Wood said it would need to be a thoughtful and well-research process.
A small scale pilot project in a community would be advisable where the situation could be monitored and studied for health, social and economic impact.
Like tobacco and alcohol, there would be regulations in place about where marijuana could be sold, how it could be advertised, age restrictions and if it could even be displayed in a store.
"There is a whole effect of prohibition people don't talk about and, I'm assuming Mayor Dooley hasn't considered, and that is the whole forbidden fruit phenomenon," said Wood.
"In the very fact that you've made this drug illegal it has generated an interest to consume it. The cultural shifts that there is such potential for is going to deal with it in a sober and mature way rather than burying our heads in the sand."
"These things aren't going to change overnight," continued Wood.
If marijuana was regulated Wood doesn't see the elimination of organized crime but "overtime as laws change in the States, there will be changes here too, and to be honest, I really think it is inevitable that these laws will change in Canada too".
To view the transcribed Nelson City Council meeting by The Nelson Daily reporter Bill Metcalfe, please follow this link: http://thenelsondaily.com/news/nelson-council-debates-legalization-pot-19460.
To find out more about Stop the Violence BC visit their website at www.stoptheviolencebc.org.
—Including files courtesy of Bill Metcalfe.