Canada should vote to legalize pot too, says former B.C. AG
Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 11:38AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 9:04PM EST
A former attorney general wants an end the criminalization of marijuana in Canada, on the back of Tuesday's announcement in Washington and Colorado to approve the legalization of its recreational use for adults.
Geoff Plant has joined other British Columbians in support of de-criminalizing the use of marijuana and is optimistic Canada will eventually relax its laws.
"Still a long road to go here in Canada , but it's a big boost,” he told Power Play on Thursday. "Now it looks as though the American voters are getting ahead of at least the government in Canada. So I feel encouraged by what happened this week."
An Angus Reid report revealed 75 per cent of B.C. residents feel that the government should legalize the use of marijuana and that it should be taxed.
"We have mainstreamed the conversation. We have identified the people who are part of this movement. What we have to do now is figure out how to mobilize our energy and cause federal politicians to pay attention,” said Plant. "The prime minister is a very smart politician. One day he'll wake up and realize he is swimming against the tide of Canadians on this issue and we'll see change. I believe it. "
If a law was passed to legalize the use of marijuana for adults in Canada, Plant said there would be an impact, but not quite as disruptive as people think.
"There are maybe four or five hundred thousand British Columbians who know use marijuana now even though it is illegal,” he said. “So the prohibition in Canada is not having a deterrent effect on consumption here in B.C."
The former provincial attorney general said there is a multi-billion dollar underground economy in support of organized crime control over the cannabis market -- a market Canadian businesses could make a profit from.
"The next step is for business communities to wake up and realize you got to normalize that part of our economic activity," he said. "There's a huge untapped source of revenue available if we can just make this policy change."
A former Vancouver police officer is also pleased that voters in Colorado and Washington state have voted in favour of legalizing marijuana, and he hopes that Canadian laws are next to change.
Kash Heed, now an MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview, says it’s time Canada changed its laws too, because the war on marijuana is simply not working.
“We have been fighting a losing cause for quite some time,” he told CTV’s Canada AM from Vancouver Thursday. “I’ve witnessed it on the streets of Vancouver. We continue to try to arrest our way out of the problem. We continue to allow criminal organizations to benefit from marijuana prohibition. We should actually be regulating and taxing it.”
Heed, who spent more than 30 years in law enforcement, says he’s been watching the marijuana movement in the U.S. for some time and is not surprised Washington and Colorado voted the way they did.
“They want to stop chasing criminals around and treating people as criminals for the possession of marijuana. Instead, they want to regulate the industry, tax the industry and take the profits away from criminal organizations that are involved in the black market of marijuana,” he said.
If pot does become legal in Colorado and Washington, it will eventually benefit B.C., Heed says.
“Whenever you’re able to remove the illicit market … such as the large demand we have for the marijuana from B.C. that heads to the United States, where criminal organizations make a significant amount of profit and then exchange it into cocaine and guns and bring it back into Canada -- it will have a direct effect here on B.C.,” he said.
Heed’s feelings about marijuana laws started to change about 20 years ago, he says.
“In the early ‘90s, I started to realize we really weren’t having any success with marijuana prohibition here in Vancouver and B.C. because we had a perpetuating gang violence problem that was leading to a very public display of violence,” he said.
“It wasn’t until 2001 when I was a commanding officer of a drug unit for the Vancouver police department that I realized our record-breaking arrests and interdictions of marijuana and other illicit drugs weren’t really making any difference.”
Heed later testified in front of a Senate committee looking into marijuana and he told them that he no longer felt that marijuana prohibition was working in Canada, that it never would work, and that it was time to look at other approaches.
Heed has since joined Stop the Violence BC, a group of academic as well as legal, health and law enforcement experts who want to see pot legalized.
The group recently released the results of a poll it commissioned from Angus Reid that found that 75 per cent of B.C. residents agree that arresting pot producers and dealers is ineffective and society would be better off taxing and regulating pot’s use among adults.
Heed says he hopes that he hopes that lawmakers here in Canada start to open their minds to new approaches.
“I’m hoping that Canadian politicians will pay attention to the evidence that’s out there and change and develop contemporary policies.”
Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable Jim Chu said marijuana is not a priority issue for Canadian police chiefs right now.
"It's not a priority to ask the federal government to do anything different than what they are already doing now," he said. "We'll have to see what shakes out in Washington State. I know a local decision was made, but also federal law is in play. We'll follow it and see what happens over time."
Chief Const. Chu said marijuana possession in B.C. is rarely charged and often it's a secondary offence, such as an impaired driver who may also be carrying the substance.
"Sole possession charges, we rarely do that in Vancouver, “Chief Const. Chu said. "It's been talked about, but really hasn't been a priority for the Canadian chiefs of police."