In an interview with the Vancouver Courier on Wednesday, Vancouver, British Columbia, Mayor Phillip Owens said that marijuana should be decriminalized. Owens told the Courier that marijuana should be available for sale like alcohol and tobacco. Owens becomes the first major Canadian politician to publicly call for an end to marijuana prohibition.
With an estimated 10,000+ indoor marijuana grow operations within the city limits, Vancouver is the epicenter of the burgeoning British Columbia marijuana industry. BC Bud is estimated to employ nearly 100,000 British Columbians and generate at least $4 billion per year. (Earlier this week, police in Ontario estimated that marijuana had become that province's number three agricultural product with an estimated $1 billion income for marijuana growers. Ontario marijuana income surpassed that from hog production and is exceeded only by the income from the beef and dairy cattle sectors, Ontario officials said.)
Owens' comments are a logical extension of his harm reduction approach to drug policy in Vancouver, which in addition to the marijuana growers is home to the continent's largest open-air hard drug scene. For Owens, hard drug use is a medical problem, not a criminal activity, and now, marijuana use should be viewed as neither.
But marijuana prohibition is a huge problem for police, said Owen. Vancouver police are spending "in excess" of $1 million per year attempting to enforce the marijuana laws, to no apparent effect, Owen told the Courier. Wait, strike that, said Owen, there is one effect of enforcing the marijuana laws that is clear: It encourages criminals seeking black market profits. Part of the backlash against marijuana growers in Vancouver and across Canada stems from organized crime groups turning residential rental houses into potential hazardous industrial indoor grow ops. Under decrim, presumably, indoor grows would no longer be necessary as police would no longer be arresting growers.
But Owens' argument fails to acknowledge the existence of a huge, highly profitable black market just minutes away: the United States. As long as marijuana prohibition exists in the US, Canadian growers will still succumb to the lure of black market profits and industrial grow ops aimed at the US market will continue to exist.
The 69-year-old Owen told the Courier he has never used marijuana. "It just wasn't around," he said, explaining that beer was his drug of choice. "I never even heard about marijuana until I was married," he said. He did not explain the relationship between those two events.
The public is ready for a debate on hard and soft drugs and is ready to change the marijuana laws, said Owen. Public opinion polls showing Canadians just about evenly split on ending marijuana prohibition back him up. Vancouver has come a long way in the past three decades. Just over 30 years ago, then Mayor Tom Campbell unleashed a police riot against a peaceful smoke-in in Gastown. Now, Campbell is gone, but the smell of pot smoke still lingers and is in fact growing rather stronger.