North Okanagan mayors are among those demanding marijuana be decriminalized.
A coalition of eight B.C. mayors is urging Premier Christy Clark, NDP leader Adrian Dix and B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins to support the strict regulation of marijuana and taxation.
“We want to raise the profile of public safety and the issue of failed public policy,” said Rob Sawatzky, Vernon mayor and a member of the coalition.
“It directly impacts us with crime and policing.”
Among the others in the coalition are Enderby’s Howie Cyr, Armstrong’s Chris Pieper and James Baker from Lake Country.
“The number of mayors and councils will increase because the money being spent on taking down grow-ops, going to court and putting people in jail is extremely high,” said Cyr, a retired police officer who is concerned about gang activities.
“We want to get violence out of the picture.”
Cyr says authorities should have the same ability to regulate marijuana as they do with cigarettes and alcohol.
“You can tax it and divert the money to treatment and education.”
The letter signed by Cyr and his fellow mayors calls on the on the three B.C. provincial party leaders, Christy Clark, Adrian Dix and John Cummins, to help bring an end to the consequences of the prohibition against marijuana: the large-scale grow-ops, related organized crime and gang violence, increasing law enforcement and legal costs, and support government regulation of marijuana under a public health framework.
“Regulating marijuana would allow the government to rationally address the health concerns of marijuana, raise government tax revenue and eliminate the huge profits from the marijuana industry that flow directly to organized crime.”
Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, says drug laws are a federal responsibility, but he believes the mayors’ should be listened to.
“These aren’t a bunch of pot heads. These are people looking at it from a pragmatic approach,” he said.
But Foster isn’t sure if marijuana should be decriminalized.
“There needs to be a lot more discussion. With 15 years working in a high school, I saw what marijuana does to kids,” he said.
Sawatzky understands drug regulations are federal but he insists the province should be involved.
“We all have a responsibility for expressing opinions about things that impact our community,” he said.
Cyr also wants provincial leaders to be active.
“Yes it’s federal, but if B.C. provides a strong stance, we could see other provinces join the call. We need to have the discussion,” he said.
Sicamous and Salmon Arm mayors, Darrell Trouton and Nancy Cooper are not part of the coalition. Trouton says he hasn’t studied all the pros and cons of either side to weigh in on the matter.
“I’m sure there’s pros and cons to everything but right now I have to focus on the district,” said Trouton. “We have enough within our own municipality to worry about right now.”
Cooper says she’s been weighing the pros and cons herself through conversation with other mayors.On May 14, she and Salmon Arm council will be meeting with Dr. David Kennedy, a spokesperson for Stop the ViolenceBC, the organization behind the coalition.
With files by Lachlan Labere.