Marijuana – time to change the law?

News that the RCMP busted a small Fernie grow op last week stirred up mixed responses among readers.

News that the RCMP busted a small Fernie grow op last week stirred up mixed responses among readers. Some readers feel that cracking down on these small grow ops is a total waste of police time and taxpayers money, but others say these people are criminals as bad as any others and should be taken down.

Short of looking the other way, the police still have no option but to charge casual marijuana users with simple possession. It’s a criminal activity, even if the grow op is not involved in trafficking. That means costly paperwork for the cops, yet more strain on the overtaxed justice system and criminal convictions and records that can adversely affect citizenship, jobs and travel. It’s also hugely inefficient. Barely half of drug-related cases result in convictions.

And, of course, taxpayers are footing the bill.

However you feel about it, it’s hard to argue against the initiative currently being toured around the province by Sensible BC.

The Vancouver-based group has prepared legislation called The Sensible Policing Act, which would effectively decriminalize marijuana by stopping B.C. police from making searches or arrests for simple possession. The law also calls upon the federal government to repeal marijuana prohibition, so that B.C. can legally regulate its cultivation and sale.

The proposed law has been accepted by Elections BC, and the group will have 90 days to collect signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in every electoral district, beginning September 9.

The Sensible BC-commissioned study touted by the group indicates that more than $10 million is spent on enforcement annually. That figure wouldn’t disappear entirely by decriminalizing simple possession, but a least a good chunk of that total could probably be directed into more pressing police concerns.

Pot is big business in B.C. and in Canada, and allowing such a commodity to go unregulated and untaxed is a lost opportunity for taxpayers.

But, let’s not forget, there are health risks linked to smoking marijuana. These include dependency problems, mental heath problems and lung damage. It can cause paranoia in the short term, and in those with a pre-existing psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, it can contribute to relapse. Like alcohol, it’s not something that benefits society, but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Just because something is legalized, it doesn’t mean everyone is going to take it up as their new hobby.

Sensible BC have 90 days to collect over 400,000 signatures. If they collect those signatures, the Sensible Policing Act can be brought to a referendum in September 2014.

Sensible B.C.’s initiative is an ambitious one, and may be futile without finding support in all corners of the province.