A challenge to step up leadership was given to Grand Forks city council when mayor Brian Taylor asked them to join the campaign to end the prohibition of marijuana in Canada.
Taylor wants council to join in with the other B.C. municipalities, now over 13 of a possible 160 and growing, in the Stop the Violence campaign. The campaign asks provincial party leaders to pressure the Canadian government for a shift in attitude in drug policy. The provincial and federal governments need to realize that prohibition has been a costly failure and they need to find some other way to manage marijuana, Taylor said in comments to council.
“Politicians are afraid to discuss their opinions on it (marijuana) for fear that they will be labelled as pro-marijuana and lose political support,” Taylor added. “I think that’s one of the reasons …that is holding it (change) back… People didn’t elect me just to run the council meeting and democratic process, they elected me to be a leader and this is the kind of thing that mayors should step forward and take a leadership role in.”
B.C. is known as the Columbia of North America, said local medical marijuana advocate Jim Leslie who gave a passionate presentation to support the mayor’s call to action at the meeting Monday, May 28. Prohibition, said Leslie, has not only expanded the value of the drug, but has essentially allowed criminals to reap the “value added tax” on the product instead of governments.
“The evidence is in. The only problem is leadership,” said Leslie. “I think that people in our communities, the first people they go to for representation is municipal government, next the province and of course the federal government. What they’re looking for is, I think as I talk to people in the community, that everyone’s against drug violence, and no one wants to see marijuana in the hands of children. Now if we can regulate it properly… you can take the value out of it (on the illegal market).”
The Stop the Violence campaign highlights the ineffective laws, increasing costs of enforcement with an increasing market for marijuana, and the violence which is impacting rural communities more and more across Canada. “Laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences,” said the letter which went out on Apr. 26. At that time Taylor was unable to have Grand Forks’ participation confirmed and has brought the issue forward for council’s consideration.
Effective policing operations are pushing gang-led grow operations out of the major centres and they are popping up in rural communities where they are more isolated, said Taylor. And that’s why he sees this as important to Grand Forks.
The key is to take the money away from the criminal element that currently controls the sale of marijuana, Leslie added, and that helps take the wind out of other criminally funded activities. According to a B.C. Business magazine report in 2008, the B.C. marijuana industry was estimated to be $7.5 billion with a labour force of 250,000 people.
“The last couple of ones (grow ops) that were busted here were up in the 3000 (plants) plus range,” said Taylor. “This means big money invested and it means that the people there are probably carrying guns... There is clearly a danger to our community not to recognize that this is taking place.”
There was not much discussion between councillors at the meeting. Councillor Gary Smith gave his support in principle for the letter, Bob Kendel said that the issue is better dealt with at the federal level, while councillor Cher Wyers asked a number of questions about the letter and the need for action at the municipal level.
“Marijuana, personally, I see it as a ways and means to harder drugs,” said Wyers. “As far as prohibition, what happened 80 years ago (with alcohol) is a lot different than what’s happening today.”
Leslie countered Wyers impression that marijuana is a gateway drug, and backed his statements up with a federal government report that found no connection between marijuana use and use of harder drugs.
“Dealers who sell marijuana, they sell ecstasy, they sell cocaine, they sell heroin and they don’t check IDs,” Leslie said. “There’s nothing about the bio-chemical effect of cannabinoids or marijuana on the human body that causes one to require or move on to harder drugs. If we separate the largest consumer market for so-called illicit drugs, being cannabis, from the hard drugs that actually cause harm, that’s a big, big step.”
Local resident Les Johnson told council during question period that he sees the local politicians as the ones closest to their community and responsible to pressure other levels of government for change on behalf of their constituents. Nigel James also spoke up saying he had expected a more informed approach by individual councillors to the topic at the meeting.
Taylor will pursue the discussion at another council meeting to reach a decision.
Watch the video from GFTVCA by Les Johnson to hear Jim Leslie's presentation to council.