B.C. advocates say Washington State voters' support of Initiative 502 to legalize and tax marijuana adds momentum to legalization efforts north of the border.

B.C. pot reformers catch whiff of victory in Washington weed vote

B.C. pot reform advocates are celebrating Washington State's historic vote Tuesday to legalize and tax marijuana.

  • Nov. 7, 2012 12:00 p.m.

By Jeff Nagel/Black Press

B.C. pot reform advocates are celebrating Washington State’s historic vote Tuesday to legalize and tax marijuana, saying it adds momentum to their campaign for change here.

Initiative 502 passed with 55 per cent of voters in favour, making Washington the first U.S. state to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults, along with Colorado, where a similar vote also passed.

“Tell everyone I’m elated – it’s the biggest day of our movement ever,” Marc Emery, B.C.’s imprisoned Prince of Pot, tweeted from his U.S. jail cell.

His wife Jodie Emery celebrated the win in Seattle – where her husband was indicted for selling pot seeds – with Washington campaigners, including travel guru Rick Steves and the U.S. prosecutor-turned-reformer who put Marc behind bars.

But U.S. authorities said their enforcement of national drug laws is unchanged – marijuana remains federally illegal – and it’s unclear how the state can carry out its plan to license marijuana farming and tax its sale in stores without federal consent. Negotiations are expected in a one-year rule-making period before pot there could be legally farmed or sold.

Observers here say the political implications are huge for the debate on drug policy reform in B.C., even if Washington’s legalization plan is blocked.

“American voters are now ahead of Canadian governments on the cannabis file,” said former B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant, a high-profile reformer with the Stop the Violence coalition. “It helps advance the argument for legalization here in B.C.”

Rob Gordon, director of SFU’s school of criminology, says it could spur more legalization drives if “the sky doesn’t fall” and Washington starts reaping a windfall of weed revenue.

“The dominoes could start toppling,” he said.

Washington estimates it would collect $560 million in the first year from a 25 per cent tax on the sale of licensed, regulated marijuana through authorized stores.

“Whether or not their federal government is going to tolerate this remains to be seen,” Gordon said.

If pot is legally sold in Washington, Gordon expects a partial collapse of B.C.’s estimated $7-billion-a-year illegal pot industry as growers relocate their operations south of the border to avoid the need to smuggle.

“The operations in B.C. would shrink considerably – they’d be focused entirely on patchy local consumption,” he said.

“It’s a huge step forward,” said B.C. marijuana activist Dana Larsen, who’s heads the Sensible BC campaign to force a provincial referendum on pot decriminalization using the Recall and Initiative Act.

As with the campaign to defeat the HST, volunteers will have 90 days in the fall of 2014 to get thousands of signatures from every riding of the province to trigger a referendum.

If it passes, the Legislature would vote on Larsen’s proposed Sensible Policing Act, which would order an end to police enforcement of simple cannabis possession.

Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix both say marijuana reform is up to the federal government and the prime minister has said the Conservatives won’t loosen Canada’s drug laws.

But Larsen argues Ottawa could, if pressured enough, exempt B.C. from federal narcotics laws to enable a regulated and taxed marijuana experiment here.

He said legal pot in Washington helps end the argument that the U.S. may “retaliate or freak out” if B.C. reforms its drug laws.

Plant said he prefers full marijuana legalization, rather than the half-step of decriminalization, which doesn’t allow regulation and taxation.

“Full legalization removes the economic incentive for the illegal manufacture and distribution,” Plant said, adding authorized retail sales should largely end organized crime’s role.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who opposes marijuana use on grounds ranging from health to impaired driving risks, said it’s a fantasy to think gangs would fade away.

“That is living in a dream world,” he said. “They’re not going to hang up their skates and become legal business people.”

But Plant anything that helps sap the strength of gangs would help.

“I’m not saying we’re going to put an end to organized crime,” Plant said. “I’m saying let’s put an end to that part of organized crime which is about gunfire in broad daylight in the streets of our cities for control of the cannabis market. That would be progress I think.”

The Washington State vote comes two months after B.C. civic leaders voted to urge the province to decriminalize marijuana and explore methods to regulate and tax it.

University of the Fraser Valley criminologist Daryl Plecas, who is seeking the BC Liberal nomination in Abbotsford-South, said legalization in a  handful of U.S. states – or even B.C. – would do almost nothing to shut down grow-ops here because they would continue to feed off the larger market in the rest of the U.S.

He said Washington’s plan won’t stop illegal growing because some consumers will want pot that isn’t government-approved and they definitely won’t want to pay taxes on it.

The reform option Plecas said he would support is one where Canada and the U.S. make it free for individuals across their countries to grow their own pot and government takes no role in regulating or taxing it.

There would no longer be a highly profitable market for mass cultivation, he said.

“You’ve got no black market, you’ve got no organized crime and you’ve got nobody going to jail,” Plecas said. “But as long as it’s illegal elsewhere, we’re going to have grows.”

 

Just Posted

Ski Patrol and SAR search for missing skier

Man’s truck found in Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s parking lot covered in ‘several days’ snow’

PHOTOS: Potluck welcomes Syrian refugee to Revelstoke

Revelstoke for Refugees hosted a potluck at the United Church on Friday night to welcome Sam Aiden to town

City and Revelstoke Community Housing Society seek to address affordable housing crisis

The City and RCHS have applied for two separate grants to build 50 and 21 units of affordable housing

Update: Heavy snow disrupts flights at Kelowna International

Kelowna - Expect snow in the Okanagan, Southern Interior and the Kootenays

Interior Health CEO to retire in October

Chris Mazurkewich will step down after three years leading IH

VIDEO: Couples tie the knot on top of Mount Mackenzie

Free weddings and vow renewals offered by Revelstoke Mountain Resort on Valentine’s Day

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

B.C. VIEWS: Subsidy supercluster settles in B.C.

Ottawa, Victoria add to their overlapping ‘innovation’ budgets

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Canada’s first ever men’s ski slopestyle medal

Men’s hockey team beats South Korea and women’s curling reverses losing streak

Canada’s Beaulieu-Marchand wins bronze in Olympic slopestyle

The skier from Quebec City scored 92.40 on his second run

Russian athlete suspected of doping at PyeongChang Olympics

The case could be an obstacle to Russia’s efforts to have the Russian team formally reinstated

Canadians place second in first heat of two-man bobsleigh

Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz finish 0.02 seconds behind Latvian team in Winter Olympics

Canucks came out hot, beat Bruins 6-1

Loui Eriksson scores twice, catapulting Vancouver to a lopsided victory over Boston

Most Read