At an outside table at the Riverside Junction Café in Whistler, activist Dana Larsen is explaining his campaign to get enough signatures to force a B.C.-wide referendum for the decriminalization of marijuana.
It’s a hot, sunny afternoon, the first of a 12-day tour for Larsen and his campaign manager Cindy Heemeryck. They left Vancouver earlier in the day, Aug. 7, already stopping in Squamish, Pemberton is next, to be followed by an evening event in Lillooet, 130 km north of Whistler. The tour will take them to 32 small towns between here and Prince Rupert.
As part of the petition campaign, Larsen is recruiting 5,000 to 6,000 canvassers and so far has 700. The canvassers will begin to officially collect signatures on Sept. 9, and Larsen must get 400,000 to 500,000 signatures, or 10 per cent of voters, within 90 days to force the referendum.
“That’s 8,000 a day across the province, so that’s a lot of signatures to be gathered, but if we have 6,000 canvassers they would only need a couple each every day,” Larsen said.
A former provincial NDP candidate for the Sea to Sky region, as well as a former BC NDP leadership contender, Larsen has long advocated decriminalization.
“I’ve been working on this cannabis activism for 20-plus years now; I worked with Marc Emery for a long time on Cannabis Culture Magazine, opened two businesses,” Larsen said.
“I’m disappointed that my party won’t take a stronger stand on this issue. They say they support decriminalization but it’s a federal issue and they won’t talk about it, but when it comes to coast guard stations closing, also a federal issue, they will talk about that.
“What we are doing is within B.C.’s jurisdiction and I wish the NDP would question the Liberal government as to why marijuana possession charges have doubled over the past six years, why have they allowed the police to double their budget on marijuana possession charges when no one in the province wants that.”
The $10.5 million spent per year to charge and convict marijuana users is a waste, he said.
“I think the vast majority of British Columbians would like to see police resources spent differently.”
The logistical planning needed to get half a million signatures in three months is complicated and having campaigned in elections Larsen knows it. He has started creating a database so that he can inform interested people to sign to petitions after Sept. 9. In the time Pique attended the meeting only one person showed up to learn more.
Larsen said he had more volunteer canvassers who were seniors rather than young people, this he attributed to the older generation being more politically experienced and attuned.
“Thirty thousand people are pre-registered and hopefully they will bring friends. We’ve also got close to 60,000 likes on Facebook so the momentum has been building and we can direct people to where they need to go on the right day,” he said.
To school himself on what’s ahead, Larsen said he has been reading HST & The People for Democracy, a new book by former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm on his successful Provincial Sales Tax vs. Harmonized Sales Tax referendum fight in 2009.
Whistler resident Diana Day signed up to becoming a campaigner while Larsen was in town.
“I think it is important to get marijuana decriminalized because it’s ridiculous having a plant lead to someone being a criminal and I know a little about Reefer Madness and how it all came about, it’s just propaganda that made the whole thing worse,” Day said.
“And I really think it would be great if we could all benefit from the sale. There’s apparently billions of dollars of tax money that could go into the coffers for something that people are already doing. It’s not killing anybody, the part that’s killing anybody is the criminalization of it.”
Larsen said that anyone interested in joining the campaign as a canvasser should visit www.sensiblebc.ca.