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Former B.C. A-Gs join push to legalize marijuana

Marijuana found in a seized grow-op in the Lower Mainland. - File
Marijuana found in a seized grow-op in the Lower Mainland.
— image credit: File

A coordinated push to legalize marijuana has gained the backing of four former B.C. attorneys-general, including B.C. Liberal Geoff Plant.

The four – who include former NDP A-Gs Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh and Graeme Bowbrick – signed a letter to Premier Christy Clark and Opposition leader Adrian Dix calling for the regulation and taxation of cannabis to combat organized crime.

They're the latest high-profile additions to the Stop the Violence B.C. coalition campaign for pot decriminalization.

The letter comes in the wake of a surge in Lower Mainland gang violence in recent weeks, including multiple shootings in Vancouver and Surrey.

It warns continued marijuana prohibition is the cause of much of the gang violence and more aggressive enforcement is not the solution.

"The case demonstrating the failure and harms of marijuana prohibition is airtight," their letter says, citing "massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety and significant – and escalating – costs to taxpayers."

The only solution, they said, is to "move away from an unregulated and increasingly violent illegal market, which is largely controlled by organized crime and whose only motive is profit, and towards a strictly regulated legal market whose motive is public health and safety."

The former A-Gs also expressed dismay that B.C. is supporting the federal move to mandatory minimum sentences for minor pot offences, saying misguided prosecutions will further strain an already clogged system without reducing pot use or prohibition-related violence.

Plant, who served from 2001 to 2005, said in an interview he's glad he was approached by Stop the Violence campaigners and hopes the coalition gathers more momentum.

"I have always had a problem with using criminal law to punish a behaviour that one does to yourself – including growing a plant in your backyard and smoking it," he said.

Plant said he believes the fallout of pot prohibition has worsened since he was B.C.'s chief prosecutor.

"It's causing more gang problems and more gang violence," he said. "It's increasingly permeating every aspect of the economy of the province."

Plant said Canada must recognize the war on cannabis has failed and that "all criminalization does is feed the profits of gangsters" by making the drug trade more lucrative.

Change must ultimately come from Otawa, he said, adding provincial leaders focused on sustaining the flow of federal grants are unlikely to rock the boat.

"This is a one-step-at-a-time project," Plant said. "I don't think the federal-provincial policy is going to change tomorrow. But if we continue to gather strength, sooner or later, the federal government will listen."

While federal Conservatives show no sign of softening on the issue, Plant said he thinks Prime Minister Stephen Harper could yet lead the country to marijuana policy reform.

He called Harper an "astute politician" who will ultimately follow where the people lead.

A recent Angus Reid poll found 77 per cent of B.C. residents said marijuana possession should not be a criminal offence.

Stop the Violence BC previously coordinated calls for pot reform from senior health officers and ex-Vancouver mayors.

The coalition has the backing of various academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts.

Questioned Tuesday by reporters, Premier Christy Clark said she will leave the debate on marijuana policy reform to the federal government.

Current Attorney General Shirley Bond maintained police efforts to combat gang violence are working.

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