The Union of British Columbia Municipalities has passed a resolution in support of the decriminalization of marijuana, and Sea to Sky politicians say it is time for the laws to change.
The declaration was made at the conference in Victoria on Sept. 26.
Sales of the drug top billions of dollars in Canada per year and, among other things, proponents say legalization would lead to better monitoring and controls for the industry, as well as taxation for government coffers.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden voted in favour of the resolution, saying in a phone interview that it was time to take the criminal element out of the equation. "It seems to me that getting rid of grow operations is going to be the likely outcome if it is decriminalized and that's a good thing," she said. "It would be regulated. Prohibition has been a failed policy and the cultivation and trade of marijuana is in the hands of gangs. Those are primarily my reasons."
While the gang impact from the marijuana market has not had much effect on Whistler compared to other parts of British Columbia, it still remains important to the resort, Wilhelm-Morden said.
"It's more luck than anything. We do know that gangsters do come to Whistler from time to time, but for those communities that have heavy gang influence they've got a level of violence in the community that is simply unacceptable," she said.
The next step for the resolution is for the UBCM executive to liaise with the Ministry of Community Affairs regarding all of the resolutions made at the conference, including this one. The resolutions are not binding.
"We were talking at lunch about what will happen next as a result of this resolution, and someone said 'this is the way legalizing gay marriage started, by resolutions passed at organizations like UBCM'," Wilhelm-Morden said.
Wilhelm-Morden posted the result of the vote on her Facebook page, Nancy the Mayor, and got a mixed response.
"Sorry to hear that you voted in favour of decriminalizing marijuana because the criminals will NEVER give up trying to sell it," wrote Gord Gunner. "It is NOT good for you. I will NEVER support anybody or (a) politician that supports the use of marijuana. My respect for you madam mayor is starting to fade."
But Paul Fournier disagreed. "The reality of the situation is pot is never going away. I have known, and know, many people lose the life battle because tobacco and or alcohol. It only makes sense to take out the criminals," he wrote.
Squamish councillor Bryan Raiser, a user of medical marijuana, was also at the conference and voted in favour.
"It used to be everyone was talking about medical marijuana. No one wanted to touch (recreational use); 'deal with medical, it's a safer thing to deal with,'" he said. "This time everyone is basically fed up. We have a law that doesn't work. There was a four-hour discussion on it on Monday and the speakers were overwhelmingly supportive. Even the status-quo guys, for lack of a better word, said something has to change."
Raiser said he saw the resolution as a good step towards forcing the conversation at the provincial and federal level.
"That is where it should be, but they just haven't had the... courage to deal with the issue," he said.
"The confidence that people have in speaking about it, there's no stigma attached to it anymore, although some people have trouble talking about it without making jokes."
The debate at the UBCM was heated, he said. One representative from the interior of B.C. didn't want to see marijuana decriminalized because too many people there are making money from it illegally.
"Many communities would not exist (without it)... It's such a huge topic. Do you legalize it? Do you decriminalize it?" he said. "Another good point brought up is that you have three options to regulate marijuana: the gangs will regulate it, big business will regulate it or government will regulate it? Which do we want?"