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End prohibition of marijuana, say B.C. mayors
Tax and regulate say B.C. mayors calling for the end of prohibition of marijuana to lower violence in their communities.
Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor joined his voice to the call that came out last week from the eight mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver City, Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Lake Country and Metchosin. The joint letter from the mayors called on leaders at all levels of government to take responsibility for marijuana policy, end prohibition and tax the drug.
“We see a seemingly endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives in our communities, yet marijuana remains widely and easily available to our youth. Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences,” they said in the letter delivered to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Opposition leader Adrian Dix and John Cummins.
Not only is the prohibition costly to maintain for enforcement and harm reduction, the mayors gave a compelling case to regulate and tax the drug.
“…the province’s massive illegal marijuana trade drives organized crime in BC and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Organized Crime Agency of BC estimates that organized crime groups control 85 percent of BC’s marijuana trade, which the Fraser Institute estimates is worth up to $7 billion annually. U.S. federal prosecutors have identified BC-based drug gangs that control the marijuana trade as “the dominant organized crime threat in the Northwest,”” continued the letter.
The West Kootenay / Boundary regions have long joked about their underground economy in marijuana and how it is the main source of income for many residents. Taylor agrees with setting up strict regulations around marijuana and to look at taxation, noting that larger urban areas have effectively been pushing the sophisticated large operators out of their municipalities creating increased crime problems for rural areas.
“I thought we’d be swayed by morality over time, but in point of fact it’s come down to simple money,” said Taylor. “I think the attraction is taxation, so regulate and tax satisfies both sides: the need for more revenue and the regulate side means that we can keep it away from children. Having it used as an adult enjoyment or medication, and offer those concerned about the sky falling some assurance that the regulation side will not allow this to become chaos.”
Several of the mayors involved in this letter campaign lead communities that have adopted motions supporting Stop the Violence BC - a coalition of legal, law enforcement and health experts seeking to change cannabis laws.
Although not endorsed formally by Grand Forks council, Taylor said the call for regulation and taxation of marijuana is underway across the Kootenay / Boundary and was a topic at the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments’ April meeting.
“Someone suggested, well, if we could tax marijuana at a rural level we could solve some of our problems – the crowd came alive and cheered,” Taylor laughed. “It was a part of a discussion about economics.”
Taylor referred to the growing government movement to change laws in the United States as further evidence that legalization of the drug is long overdue.
“This (issue) will be going before the people of California, Washington and Oregon, and seven other states in November and it’s running about 67 percent in the polls to initiate a system of regulation and taxation similar to the wine industry,” Taylor explained.
They will be licencing grow operations in these states if their referendums pass, and the key, said Taylor is that the taxes will be municipal noting that this will benefit regions and municipalities.
“What we have right now is a hidden economy within our rural areas,” said Taylor. “We can’t see the growers out there that are cultivating and making money on the side selling their pot in smaller quantities.”
“The best that we can hope for here is that (our provincial leaders) challenge the federal government’s stranglehold on this,” Taylor added. “It’s economic development, it’s health care on the medical marijuana side. We should be past the “is it going to happen” stage, and starting to plan for the image of post-prohibition British Columbia.”
This drug, banned from prescribing options for physicians in 1935, may now be a solution for local governments to shore up their tax revenues in a time of limited economic growth – an irony that what has been illegal for nearly 80 years could now become a taxpayer’s saviour.