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Nelson Councillors Join B.C. Colleagues in Voting for Marijuana Decriminalization

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
September 27th, 2012

Delegates at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, including several from the West Kootenay, voted this week in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana.

“It was a good debate,” Nelson City Councillor Donna Macdonald told The Nelson Daily by phone from the conference on Wednesday, “and it was a substantial majority who voted in favour of the resolution.”

Even though technically they have no legal jurisdiction over drug laws, municipalities took this issue on because they say the policing and other social costs resulting from marijuana prohibition have a negative impact on their budgets and communities.

Initiated by the District of Metchosin, the resolution asked that “the UBCM call on the appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.”

Opponents: decriminalization is morally wrong and it won’t work

“The opponents at the UBCM were mostly dubious about whether this kind of approach would make a different to the gang activity in the province,” said Macdonald, who supported the resolution. “They said that taking marijuana out of the picture, they would just move on to other drugs and more violence.”

“For some people it is a moral issue,” Macdonald said.  “They don’t want in any way to enable or give any approval of any kind of drug use. There were people who said it was not going to work because so much of the marijuana is exported south of the border and that will simply continue.  Some people argued that the notion that we will get this tax windfall from regulating and then taxing was not going to happen, and anyone would be a fool to think that gang member were going to get a business licence and pay their taxes on this kind of business.”

Dooley: it was the right forum for the vote

Nelson Mayor John Dooley is on record as agreeing with all those objections. Asked by The Nelson Daily to comment on the result of the UBCM vote, he said, “The vote happened in the right forum, the one I thought it should be in in the first place, the UBCM. There was a lot of really good discussion prior to the vote.”

In June, the issue provoked a long and rancorous debate at a Nelson City Council, transcribed in its entirety by The Nelson Daily here.

Supporters: Decriminalization will end violence 

According to a note provided by the UBCM resolutions committee to delegates prior to the vote, “BC is responsible for 40% of the marijuana produced in Canada, and 80-95% of marijuana produced in BC is exported illegally into the United States. Based on police information, the marijuana industry in BC is currently operated by criminal gangs who sell or exchange the marijuana produced in BC with criminal gangs in the United States for cocaine and guns.”

Macdonald said, “Some of the communities that spoke said things like, ‘We used to have this nice little town and just two weeks ago there was a gang related shooting.’ Nelson fortunately has not encountered that, but many communities have, people getting shot in broad daylight on their streets.”

“For supporters of the motion,” said Macdonald, “it was about the vast amounts of money that are being spent in this effort to support prohibition and how it has simply failed, and that having it as a criminal offense was a bad idea for the recreational pot smoker of whom there are apparently a half million in B.C. To make all those people criminals was not a good idea, especially young people, because it can really ruin someone’s life by giving them a criminal record at 19.”

Macdonald told The Nelson Daily that Nelson Councillor Robin Cherbo spoke at the UBCM session in favour of the resolution. “He expressed his doubts about whether this would affect the gangs and the black market, but he supported it because he didn’t want to see people get criminalized for smoking a joint.”

Macdonald said it was pointed out at the conference that the states of Washington, Oregon, and Colorado will be introducing voter initiatives in the upcoming U.S. election asking for the decriminalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana.

The UBCM will now send the resolution to the Federal government, which is required to respond in writing to the municipality of Metshosin that initiated the resolution.

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