Could cannabis legalization and regulation be coming to Canada? At least one activist says yes, and claims now is the time to push for it.
Canadian cannabis activist Dana Larsen has received the okay from the British Columbia officials to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would prevent police from enforcing marijuana laws - effectively legalizing the plant.
Larsen's petition was finalized yesterday, giving Larsen and his group about two months to get organized before they can begin taking signatures September 9. In order for the proposal to be considered, Larsen has to collect signatures from about 400,000 people including ten percent of registered voters in each of B.C.'s 85 voting districts.
Larsen feels strongly that the measure would pass if put before voters.
"We've got a pretty good shot at it, I think, but it's very challenging," Larsen told the Vancouver Sun earlier this week. "What I am confident about is that if we get on the ballot, we will win a resounding majority in a referendum. We have incredible public support for this."
Interestingly, the petition would not be legally binding. Still, Larsen says he hopes that it would send a strong message to elected officials that cannabis reform is something they need to address. If enough signatures are collected, the petition heads to a legislative committee who decides what actions to take. They can either send the petition to the entire legislature to be considered or they could ask for a province-wide election. If passed by voters, the referendum would then be sent back to the legislature who could either pass it, amend it, or kill it outright.
It's very challenging for a government to refuse to go along with a referendum, which is the ultimate voice of the people. It would be very undemocratic and unpopular," Larsen said.
According to the Sun, cannabis legalization has been gaining steam in recent years with several prominent Canadian politicians calling for major changes in how that country handles the plant. Included in that list are former Premiers Mike Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh as well as numerous B.C. Mayors and former attorneys general.
But there is obviously still some holdout. B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton stressed that marijuana policy is a federal issue in Canada, and that any real changes would have to be made at that level: "This is a Canadian federal law, and we don't have any intention of getting involved in it."