Delegates to the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria passed a motion Wednesday to call upon government to decriminalize marijuana and research its regulation and taxation.
The motion followed a Monday debate where former BC attorney general Geoff Plant urged mayors and councillors to push for a change in federal marijuana laws. Plant called the status quo “failed policy,” citing the consequences of an unregulated, untaxed multi-billion dollar industry created by the ‘war on drugs.’
Comox Valley Regional District board chair Edwin Grieve, who favoured the resolution, believes an annual underground economy of $7 billion is going to be rife with corruption with payoffs through all levels of society.
“Bringing that economy into the open and under government control makes suppliers culpable under the law and brings with it all the processes and controls that are needed to protect society,” Grieve said.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, a former police officer, did not vote in favour.
“There’s a lot of anger about it and there’s a lot of debate going on,” Jangula said shortly after the vote, noting the lack of elected officials who could not commit to attend for an entire week.
“It’s not going to eliminate organized crime. We already have a major problem in some areas with these medical grow-ops. It’s just going to compound that problem, make it 10 times as bad.”
If medicinal marijuana is used, Jangula questions why it isn’t controlled and grown by those licensed by the government. Along with being permitted to grow about 50 plants for themselves, he said licensees can also grow for another three or four people.
“Tell me where a couple of hundred plants is what you need for your personal consumption?” Jangula said. “In addition to that there are no checks and no controls, so if nobody is checking up on you, why not grow a couple more hundred? Why not grow a thousand?”
Jangula notes a suspicion that most medical grow-ops are used for trafficking. He also notes unpleasant smells and mould problems created by grow-ops.
“What about our relationship with the U.S., our biggest trade partner?” he added. “Decriminalize is basically legalize. If it’s not criminal it’s legal.
“The idea that all these marijuana users are now going to go to the government-run store and buy marijuana and pay taxes on it is an absolute, laughable joke.”
While he harbours concern about medical grow-ops, Comox Mayor Paul Ives believes in regulation through bylaws. He voted for the resolution.
“It’s kind of beside the point in terms of the decriminalization debate,” Ives said of grow-ops. “That’s more to do with changes in societal standards, in my view, as well as trying to alleviate the load on the court system with many in what my view is trivial possession charges.
“At this point it’s just a resolution that will go forward through UBCM to both provincial and federal governments. I guess it’s reflective of where community leaders see things going.”
Decriminalization, he added, does not necessarily legalize cannabis.
“What it’s saying is it shouldn’t be a criminal offence,” said Ives, who is a lawyer. “As we go forward, and this is what we’re asking the Province and the feds to look at, is how can we try to regulate this?
“In much the same way as alcohol and other controlled substances have been regulated in the past, rather than wasting more money on a war on drugs of this nature, why not take a more proactive approach? Maybe at some point there will be some revenue sources for all levels of government to deal with that.”