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Pot referendum organizers set high target in Skeena riding

The goal is to sign 15 per cent of registered voters, says Terrace, BC organizer

LOCAL organizers pushing for a provincial pot referendum are aiming high, with a goal of collecting the signatures of 15 per cent of registered voters instead of the mandated 10 per cent in order to put pot decriminalization on the ballot.

Sensible BC launched its campaign with the end goal of decriminalizing marijuana on Sept. 9. Under Elections BC's Recall and Initiative Act petitioners need to collect signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in every provincial district over a three month period.

If that goal is met, a provincial vote could be held in September 2014 asking voters to consider the Sensible Policing Act, which would “stop police from searching or arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for possession of marijuana,” reads the description on Sensible BC's website. The draft bill could also be introduced into the legislature for debate.

But Zachary Canuel, the regional coordinator in the Skeena riding for Sensible BC, said that lessons learned during the 2011 HST initiative mean Sensible BC is aiming for at least five per cent more signatures than technically necessary.

“We're trying to get 15 per cent,” said Canuel. “Just to be safe.”

Over 150,000 signatures were rejected during the HST petition initiative, the majority of those because the voter was ineligible to sign the petition in the riding that they signed it in, according to Elections BC's Report of the Chief Electoral Officeron the Initiative Petition: “An initiative to end the harmonized sales tax (HST)”.

In the Skeena riding, 15 per cent of registered voters is 3,092, while 10 per cent is 2,111.

Collecting that number of signatures is “absolutely” doable, said Canuel.

“Just at the rate that I've been collecting signatures I could probably passively collect close to 2,000 myself,” he said.

Canuel has mostly been collecting signatures at his Terrace store, Deviant Fibres. There are more than 25 official canvassers registered through Elections BC, and they've been out at different public events with efforts ramping up as the months go on and plans to canvas at the college and the farmers market.

“I don't know if they'll be okay with us getting a booth, but there's nothing stopping us from standing on the street side,” Canuel said of the market location.

But you won't necessarily see canvassers coming door-to-door, he said.

“Door-to-door canvassing isn't the most efficient way,” he said. “You're kind of limited by the distance you can walk on people's streets, so when you hit the busy places, in the matter of a half-hour to an hour you can get what it might take door-knocking a substantial amount of more time.”

In order to sign the petition, a person must have been registered a registered voter the day before the campaign was launched – they can't register to vote at the same time they sign the petition.

“Unfortunately, if you want to sign the petition you had to be registered to vote at 11:59 p.m. Sept 8. If you weren't registered by that time, it doesn't matter if you get registered during the 90-day signature gathering period. It doesn't count,” said Canuel.

So far, the reception to the campaign has been positive, he said.

“Maybe it's just the type of people who visit me in the store, but even on the street when I was out canvassing this summer to pre-register people I only really ran into a couple of people who seemed adamantly against it,” said Canuel. “Most other people who weren't really interested just shrug it off and walk away. But everybody else, the majority of people, seem excited to put their name down.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article quoted a source saying that during the HST campaign, Elections BC negated both signatures if someone signed twice. In fact, if a person signs a petition more than once, only one signature is counted.

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