Local politicians divided on pot decriminalization

But motion to decriminalize does pass at convention in Victoria

LOCALLY elected officials are divided as to whether possessing, distributing, growing and selling marijuana should be decriminalized.

The division showed in a resolution passed yesterday by elected officials from across BC at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Victoria.

The government organization will now ask the federal government to decriminalize marijuana and explore how it could be regulated and taxed instead.

Terrace city councillor James Cordeiro, who voted against the resolution, said police forces already practise decriminalization when it comes to possessing small amounts of marijuana.

“We’re not talking about decriminalizing growing 500 plants,” said Cordeiro. “Growing would still be criminal, distributing would still be criminal.”

He dismissed arguments that decriminalization would reduce gang violence, saying the vast majority of pot grown in BC is smuggled into the United States.

Cordeiro added that governments won’t be able to tax marijuana at a high enough rate to generate a substantial amount of revenue, and that even still “criminal elements will still be able to undercut” pricing.

Alcohol bootlegging and cigarette smuggling still happen, he pointed out.

“Last, the tax will be funneled into the province’s general revenue account,” said Cordeiro, adding that municipalities have long since petitioned for a cut of liquor tax revenue to deal with the social costs to a municipality resulting from alcohol consumption.

“We’ll never see it,” he said about a cut of hypothetical marijuana tax revenues, and liquor sales tax.

City councillor Bruce Bidgood, on the other hand, voted in favour of decriminalization.

“The legal treatment of people who possess a small amount of marijuana is uncalled for,” he said, adding he thinks government production, distribution and taxation of the substance is another debate entirely. “I believe that the possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized.”

Bidgood added he is not talking about legalizing the substance, but that as a result of criminalization, there are people who are marginalized.

“Has it resulted in diminished use? No,” said Bidgood. “Or has it just produced an underground culture making a lot of people feel uncomfortable?”

Councillor Marylin Davies, who attended a seminar on the topic two days before the vote, said she opposed decriminalization.

“It is a health issue, not a legal issue,” said Davies, adding various health concerns were cited at the session.

“Many medical studies were cited about the relationship (pot has) to schizophrenia (and the) shrinking capacity of the brain when use begins at a young age. The price to pay is simply too big,” she said.

Mayor Dave Pernarowski said he was opposed to the actual resolution “which in my opinion did not provide enough detail to support.  I was also opposed to the concept of decriminalization.”

“Decriminalization on its own would not stop grow ops from being set up inour community, it wouldn’t stop drug trafficking, and it wouldn’t stop the violence and other illegal activity that is associated with marijuana,” he said.

“I’m disappointed this resolution passed.  I also feel this resolution neededan electronic vote since the raised voting cards by the delegates for or against seemed too close to call in my opinion,” the mayor added.

City councillor Brian Downie also voted against the resolution.

I have the feeling we need to improve the tools for policing, I saw this as complicating the enforcement aspect,” said Downie of the resolution.

Councillor Stacey Tyers said she voted in favour of decriminalization and should the vote have been to legalize she probably would have as well.

I just don’t think it’s criminal behaviour and I think we spend an awful amount of policing money on minor infractions,” said Tyers. “Law abiding decent citizens have been smoking marijuana for decades.”

Thornhill regional district director Ted Ramsey voted in favour even though he’s not a fan of drugs.

I don’t think young kids should get criminal records because they smoke pot or get caught with pot,” he said.

I think it’s the first step down the long road of being realistic about pot and I just think it’s appropriate.”

Ramsey doesn’t smoke pot and said he doesn’t necessarily agree with it as it can start young people on the road to drugs but it shouldn’t have the importance in the criminal system that is attached to it currently.

Nass Valley director and regional district chair Harry Nyce wasn’t there for the vote but did say afterward, if he had been, he would’ve voted in favour of decriminalization.

Regional district director Doug McLeod, who represents the rural area north of Terrace and south to Lakelse Lake was not at the convention.

For the record, here is the decriminalization resolution as prepared by the District of Metchosin on southern Vancouver Island:

WHEREAS marijuana prohibition is a failed policy which has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs;

AND WHEREAS the decriminalization and regulation of marijuana would provide tax revenues:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that UBCM call on the appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.