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British Columbia Public Supports Marijuana Legalization

Support for marijuana legalization in British Columbia has reached a whopping 75%, according to a new Angus Reid poll commissioned by Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in British Columbia and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province.

The poll surveyed 799 respondents in British Columbia. The results have a margin of error of +/-  3.5%.

The number supporting legalization is up six points over last year's Angus Reid poll, where 69% supported it. Meanwhile, opposition to legalization has declined from 24% last year to 21% this year.

The new poll also suggested a broad social acceptance of marijuana in Canada's westernmost province, which has been a hotbed of marijuana cultivation and culture for several decades now. Only 14% of those polled believe possession of a joint should lead to a criminal record, down six points from last year, and 74% would be comfortable living in a society where adult cannabis consumption was taxed and legally regulated under a public health framework, an increase of four percentage points from last year.

Strikingly, support for full legalization was higher than support for the half-measure of decriminalization. While 75% supported legalization, only 62% wanted decriminalization.

"From a scientific and public safety, making cannabis illegal has clearly been an expensive and harmful failure," said Dr. Evan Wood, founder of Stop the Violence BC and Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at the University of British Columbia. "With 75% of British Columbians supporting change, and the status quo contributing to increasing harms in BC communities, it is absolutely time for politicians to catch up with the public."

Stop the Violence BC has been pushing for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Its members include four former BC attorneys general, four former Vancouver mayors, including Larry Campbell, and former West Vancouver police chief and Liberal member of the provincial legislature Kash Heed.

The campaign is picking up steam. In September, the Union of BC Municipalities passed a resolution called for marijuana regulation, and last month, the Public Health Association of BC (PHABC) endorsed regulation.

"From a public health perspective, we urgently need to research alternatives to our current approach to cannabis which has clearly failed to protect public health and has actually resulted in substantial individual and community harms," PHABC president Dr. Marjorie MacDonald said in a statement.

BC
Canada

Canada Health Ministry Bans "Bath Salts" Drug

The Canadian government has banned MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), a synthetic stimulant commonly found in "bath salts" drugs. The ban went into effect last Wednesday, the same day it was announced by Health Canada.

now banned in Canada (wikimedia.org)
"Our government is committed to protecting hardworking Canadian families and keeping our streets and communities safe," said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in a statement. "That's why we have moved quickly to make the illicit drug known as "bath salts" illegal to possess, traffic, import or export, unless authorized by regulation."

The criminalization of MDPV -- it is now a Schedule I controlled substance, like heroin and cocaine -- had been a promise of the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Aglukkaq said in July that regulation was forthcoming.

All activities involving MDPV are now illegal, except for research and scientific activities, which must be authorized by regulation. That means that people seeking to use and distribute it will have to resort to underground markets, something that police spokesmen who lauded the move don't seem to understand.

"Today's announcement by the Government of Canada to add MDPV in Schedule I of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act is an important step in stopping organized criminal groups from acquiring and profiting from this illegal substance," said Staff Inspector Randy Franks of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Acting Chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Drug Abuse Committee.

But as Marni Soupcoff noted in a National Post op-ed critical of the ban, Franks was both taking credit where it was not due and making unwarranted assumptions about how drug markets work.

"The substance, which is a key ingredient in the drug known as 'bath salts,' was obviously not illegal before the ban," Soupcoff wrote. "So it's circular to credit the ban for stopping the acquisition of something illegal. My bigger problem with the quote is the notion that making a substance illegal stops organized criminals from profiting from it. This is precisely the opposite of how things have gone with alcohol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and pretty much every other illicit drug or beverage in history."

Instead of prohibiting a relatively new and uncommon drug, Canada could have gone a more rational, public health-oriented way, Soupcoff suggested.

"What else could Canada have done to try to mitigate harm from MDPV?" she asked. "How about public health and education initiatives? Maybe monitoring MDPV sellers to ensure compliance with existing laws (investigating instances of fraud, false advertising, etc.) and creating open forums for MDPV buyers to report complaints, adverse reactions, etc. Heck, Health Canada could even have formally declared the stuff dangerous, no good, terrible, very bad and to be avoided by those who know what’s good for them."

But instead Canada gets a new addition to its list of banned substances -- and a new, underground criminal market to supply it.

Ottawa, ON
Canada

British Columbia Local Governments Call for Marijuana Decriminalization

Municipal leaders across British Columbia last week endorsed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of marijuana. The move came at the meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, which has represented the interests of BC local governments for more than a century.

"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," the resolution read, "therefore be it resolved that UBCM call on the appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana."

The "appropriate government," of course, would be the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has made it clear it is not interested in decriminalization and earlier this year toughened criminal penalties for some marijuana cultivation offenses. But former BC Attorney General Geoff Plant was among those urging delegates to send a message to Ottawa.

The municipalities should support the resolution to join a "growing chorus of voices" across the country to show Harper that "people are calling for change," he said in remarks reported by the Vancouver Sun.

"This shows that although this is a federal law, it's municipalities that bear the brunt of paying for those laws," marijuana activist Dana Larsen said after the vote. "When we're talking about decriminalization, you want to take the major users off the front lines in the war on drugs."

Larsen is leading his own effort to decriminalize in BC. He is laying the groundwork for doing a decriminalization initiative signature drive a year from now.

Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine at the University of BC, said the vote was "a symbolic gesture" toward ending a black market that sees $2.7 billion annually goes organized crime.

"It will have a profound impact on BC," he said. "We have been living with the violent, unintended consequences of marijuana [prohibition]. It's certainly not too late. It's absurd we've been flushing time and money down the toilet… this decision is long overdue."

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of voters across Canada support marijuana decriminalization, according to a July Reid Ipsos poll. In BC, that figures rises to 69%.

BC
Canada

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Approved

British Columbia election officials announced last Thursday that they had approved in principle an initiative petition that would decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults. The initiative is the brainchild of longtime marijuana reform advocate Dana Larsen, who ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the British Columbia New Democratic Party.

The initiative, the Sensible Policing Act, would amend the province's Police Act to prohibit the use of provincial law enforcement resources to enforce simple marijuana possession and use laws. The initiative also asks that the province tell the federal government to either repeal the marijuana laws or give British Columbia an exemption from them.

Elections BC said it will issue the petition November 19. The campaign would then have 90 days to collect the signatures of at least 10% of registered voters in the province's 85 electoral districts -- if it wants to move forward this year, but it doesn't.

Larsen told the Vancouver Sun he will not be gathering signatures this fall, but will instead use the petition to gain attention for the cause and train and mobilize "an army of well-trained, disciplined signature gatherers." He said he would resubmit the initiative petition in September 2013 and start signature-gathering then.

"It is a very difficult procedure, absolutely," he told the Sun. "It's a big challenge. That's why we're doing it in this unique way of spending a year in advance to build support and build up our volunteer base. I am very confident that far more than 10% of the registered voters in every riding of the province support decriminalization of cannabis."

If recent polling is any indication, Larsen is correct. A July Ipsos Reid poll had a whopping 69% of British Columbia respondents saying they supported decriminalization.

Although marijuana use levels in the province have been relatively unchanged, possession charges have doubled in the past few years, from 1,700 in 2005 to 3,505 in 2010, Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd told the Sun. Boyd added that police had actually reported some 15,000 pot possession incidents, but laid charges in only a fraction of them.

"I do think it makes sense not to enforce marijuana possession laws," he said.

The initiative process in British Columbia is lengthy. First, the initiative must gather some 400,000 signatures, then election officials will have to verify its validity before sending it to a legislative committee. The committee must then meet within 30 days and has 90 days from then to consider the initiative. It can then either recommend that the bill be considered by the provincial legislature or send it to the voters.

Initiative votes occur only once every three years. The next one is set for September 2014, so it could be two years from now before voters get a chance at changing the law, but could be sooner than that if the legislature just votes to approve it.

Vancouver, BC
Canada

Two-Thirds of Canadians Say Decriminalize Marijuana

Nearly two out of three Canadians favor decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to an Ipsos Reid poll released Sunday. Some 65% of those polled said they favored decriminalization, while only 34% opposed it.

The poll results continue a long-term trend in support of looser marijuana laws in Canada. In 1987, only 39% supported decriminalization. By 1997, that number had climbed to 51% and by 2003, it had climbed to 55%.

Support for decriminalization was strong around the country, but strongest in Atlantic Canada (71%), Ontario (69%), British Columbia (69%), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (69%). Support was stronger among those with university degrees (71%) and those with some college (71%) than those with only a high school diploma (63%). And more affluent Canadians had the strongest support for decriminalization, at 77%.

The poll results come as the Conservative federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempts to crack down on marijuana with the omnibus crime bill, C-10, it passed in March. That bill created mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants.

A decade ago, before the Conservatives took power, the then ruling Liberals considered decriminalizing marijuana, but the proposal never moved out of Parliament.

Canada

NYPD Police Officer Indicted in Ramarley Graham Killing

Ramarley Graham
A New York City police officer has been indicted on manslaughter charges in the Bronx shooting death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. Graham, a young black man, was shot and killed in the bathroom of his own home after a team of NYPD narcotics officers followed him home, broke in, and confronted him.

When he was killed in February, Graham was the eighth person to die in drug law enforcement activities so far this year. That number is now up to 28. The indictment of NYPD Officer Richard Haste is the first of any officer in any of those deaths.

Although the indictment has not been officially unsealed, the New York Times reported that a grand jury has indicted Haste, 30, on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. More charges could be pending.

Graham was shot and killed after he and a pair of friends caught the attention of narcotics officers who had staked out a bodega on White Plains Road. They radioed their colleagues and said they believed he had a gun in his waistband as he walked toward his home. Officer Haste dashed to the scene, broke into Graham's apartment, and shot and killed him in his bathroom.

No weapon was found, but police did say they found marijuana in a plastic baggie in the toilet bowl, suggesting Graham may have been trying to get rid of the evidence to avoid becoming another New York City pot bust statistic.

The shooting has provoked anger in the community and led to numerous calls for justice for Graham and other victims of overzealous policing in the city. It has also focused attention on the aggressive tactics of the NYPD's Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, teams of officers who surreptitiously surveil the streets looking for drug deals before bursting in to bust dealers and customers.

The Graham shooting has focused attention on the aggressive tactics of the Police Department’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Units -- teams of six or seven officers who hide on rooftops or in parked cars as they scan the streetscape for drug transactions before swooping in to arrest dealers and customers. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered a review of the units' tactics, but the results of that review have not been released.

The last time NYPD officers were indicted for killing a resident was when three of them riddled Sean Bell's body with bullets as he attended his pre-wedding party in 2007. Those officers were eventually found not guilty.

New York, NY
United States

British Columbia Mayors Join Increasing Calls to Legalize Marijuana

The mayors of eight British Columbia cities have added their voices to the growing chorus of prominent figures calling on the provincial government to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. In a joint letter last Thursday to provincial elected officials, the mayors said it was time to "tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework."

The letter was signed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, as well as the mayors of suburban Burnaby and North Vancouver and the mayors of the interior communities of Armstrong, Enderby, Lake County, Metchosin, and Vernon.

The letter was posted on the web site of Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of public health officials, academics, legal experts, and law enforcement officials. The group has been calling for the development of and implementation of marijuana laws that reduce social harms, such as crime and gang violence.

Despite "an endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives," the herb remains easily available to young people, the mayors said. "Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences."

The mayors are only the latest British Columbia public figures to climb on board the legalization bandwagon. In November, four former Vancouver mayors endorsed the Stop the Violence BC campaign to end pot prohibition. In December, the Health Officers Council of BC urged legalization, and in February, four former BC attorneys-general joined the call.

None of this is surprising in a province where 66% of the population supports marijuana legalization, according to an Angus Reid poll cited by the mayors. But it runs directly counter to the direction of the Conservative federal government, which not only opposes legalization, but recently passed crime legislation that for the first time imposes mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug offenses, including the cultivation of as few as six marijuana plants.

Canada

Report Calls for Safe Injection Sites in Toronto, Ottawa

A long-awaited report from Canadian researchers is recommending that Toronto could use three supervised drug injection sites and Ottawa could use two. The report said the sites would be a good health care investment, would reduce drug use, and would reduce the rate of new HIV and hepatitis C infections.

Vancouver's InSite (BCCHA)
The study, the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment (TOSCA), did not make specific location recommendations for the sites, saying that should be left up to the cities themselves, should they decided to follow the recommendations.

"Supervised injection facilities in Toronto have the potential to offer meaningful improvements for the health of people who use drugs," said the study's co-principal investigator, Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi from the Center for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital. "The facilities could also make neighborhoods where drug use is common more livable."

But within hours after the study was released, some Toronto elected officials were expressing hesitation.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told the Toronto Star local official need to see all the "facts and figures" behind the study before they decide to approve a safe-injection site. "I have some doubts as to whether or not there is real benefit and whether or not you don't just attract more problems so I would like to really get the thorough results of other places that have done this and I'd like to hear from other experts on the matter," he said.

"There has not been enough research done on the topic in Toronto -- whether that is the way to go with Toronto," echoed Councillor John Filion, chair of the city's board of health, which will consider TOSCA's recommendations.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told reporters late Wednesday that he opposes supervised injection sites, a stance that TOSCA noted in its report. "My concern is there need to be sufficient assurances within the community that the quality of life will not be put in jeopardy," Blair said.

But not everyone at City Hall was so hesitant. There is already ample evidence of the benefits of supervised injection sites, Councillor Gord Perks, chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Task Force, told the Star.

"We have today in front of us research that shows there are lives to be saved, money to be saved and neighborhoods to be improved," said Perks. "When you have differing views you go to the evidence, and the evidence is clear -- supervised injection sites save money, save lives and improve the quality of our neighborhoods."

The province of Ontario said it was open to evidence, but had no immediate plans to move forward.

"We are always prepared to listen to good advice, and we make our decisions based on evidence," Health Minister Deb Mathews said in a written statement Wednesday. "Experts continue to be divided on the value of the sites. We have no plans to pursue supervised sites at this time."

Canada's only operating supervised injection site is InSite in Vancouver. It is operating under an exemption from Canada's drug laws, much to the chagrin of the Conservative national government. Any future supervised injections sites would have to win similar exemptions. But at this point, worrying about that seems premature.

Toronto, ON
Canada

Canadian Senate Passes Harsh Crime Bill

The Canadian Senate last Thursday night gave its approval to a government package of crime measures that include a number of harsh provisions, including mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants. The bill, C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, now heads back to the House of Commons for final approval.

Canada's Senate Chamber
The bill has already passed the House, but members will have to approve amendments adopted by the Senate that more clearly define terrorist activities and how victims of terrorism can seek compensation from groups or states that support terrorism.

Passage in the Senate came after ruling Conservatives used their majority to limit debate on the measure to six hours. Liberals objected vociferously, but in vain. The only Conservative to vote against limiting debate was Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, a long-time advocate of marijuana and other drug law reforms.

"Canadians are expecting us to pass this," said Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, explaining that the rush to passage was necessary because the government had promised to pass the legislation within a hundred days of taking office. "The best way to ensure the population is not jaded when it comes to politics is to keep our promises."

Liberals argued that there was enough opposition to the bill that every senator deserved to be heard on the issue, but that argument didn't fly with the Conservative majority.

"There is no excuse for what this chamber is about to do," said Liberal Sen. Joan Fraser. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."

The Senate vote came despite heated opposition, both from within Canada, where various polls show consistent majority support for marijuana legalization, and internationally. The Global Commission on Drug Policy this week urged Parliament not to pass the bill, while Law Enforcement Against Prohibition also urged the Conservatives to reconsider.

While the bill is now almost assured of final passage, opponents have vowed to carry on the fight in the courts. Once the bill becomes law and goes into effect, look for quick challenges to its constitutionality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ottawa
Canada

LEAP Urges Canada to Reject Harsh Crime Bill

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has intervened in the debate over the Canadian government's crime bill. The group, composed of current and former members of law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals, sent a letter last Wednesday to Canadian parliamentarians, warning them of the consequences of adopting a harsh approach and urging them to instead regulate and tax marijuana.

The pending crime bill, C-10, has already passed the lower chamber of the parliament and is currently before the Senate. The bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including growing as few as six marijuana plants.

"Through our years of service enforcing anti-marijuana laws, we have seen the devastating consequences of these laws. Among the greatest concerns is the growth in organized crime and gang violence. Just as with alcohol prohibition, gang violence, corruption and social decay have marched in lockstep with marijuana prohibition," the LEAP letter said.

LEAP is not alone in opposing the Tories' crime bill. It is also opposed by the New Democrats and the Liberals. Earlier this month, four former British Columbia attorneys general called for marijuana legalization, and days later, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations criticized the bill. Chief Shawn Atleo said aboriginal peoples with drug problems needed intervention and rehabilitation, not incarceration.

So far, though, the Tories aren't listening to LEAP or anyone else. Responding to the LEAP letter, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he was unswayed.

"We develop our criminal law legislation looking at the experiences from around the world, from Britain and other countries," Nicholson said at a news conference Wednesday in Regina. "But again, ours is a Canadian solution to Canadian issues and we make no apology for that."

Nicholson also defended mandatory minimums and said the crime bill sends the right message.

"Over the years there has been introduced mandatory penalties by different governments. I think there's about 40 of them in the criminal code, so they're nothing new to this government," he said. "But I believe they send out the right message to individuals that if you start bringing, for instance, drugs into this country, if you're into the business of trafficking, there will be a price to pay and you'll be going to jail."

Although the Conservatives control the Senate, the bill isn't passed until the bill is passed. Organizing against it continues.

Canada

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