“In 2009, three gunshot-wound patients were wheeled into Wood’s emergency room at Vancouver General Hospital, all victims of gang violence. Wood had to ask himself: why? As he began to pore over research about organized crime, he discovered how central the marijuana trade was to funding gangs around British Columbia.
Stirred to arms, Wood and a coalition of academics and professionals founded Stop the Violence BC which has been lobbying for the taxation and regulation of the marijuana industry.
Despite high-power support — from eight B.C. mayors, four former provincial attorney generals and a handful of municipalities — Wood is still waiting for provincial politicians to tackle marijuana as a serious issue. So far, he’s heard nothing but a “deafening silence coming from the political leadership.”
Acceptance reaching a ‘tipping point’
Yet a majority of British Columbians would welcome testing out marijuana regulation. In a recent poll commissioned by Stop the Violence BC and conducted by Angus Reid, 73 per cent of British Columbians responded favourably to conducting a research trial looking at the impacts of a government-sanctioned cannabis retail establishment for adult recreational cannabis users.
Forty-four per cent of respondents also said that mandating such a research trial would improve their opinions of the political party responsible. Only 12 per cent said their opinions would worsen.
Given that level of support, Wood sees marijuana reform as no “partisan thing.” He hopes that, during this provincial election, party politics can be laid aside for what he sees as a popular cause: legalizing marijuana.
“In an area that’s been a quagmire, it would be incredibly welcome to see all political parties to turn around and say, ‘Look, we acknowledge the unintended consequences of cannabis prohibition,'” he says, referring to the violence and health risks involved in the illegal trade.
Wood maintains he is a “very anti-drug person,” but he says the social, economic and health benefits of legalizing marijuana outweigh the risks of today’s underhanded cannabis trade.
The challenge for Wood and his organization — and the politicians of British Columbia — is how to define what a regulated, legal marijuana industry would look like.
Dana Larsen claims to be one of the few people to have attended every single 420 rally in Vancouver, since the first marijuana rally happened on April 20, 1995. A self-proclaimed “fount of marijuana information,” Larsen remembers how the city’s yearly cannabis festival started with only a “dozen nervous protesters in Victory Square.”
For this year’s rally– Larsen’s 18th — he expects attendees to number in the tens of thousands. Marijuana’s acceptance, he says, has grown steadily. Its popularity right now marks a “tipping point.”
“It’s unprecedented on the planet to have that openness just for one day out of the year. It’s very special thing to see this kind of openness and tolerance and that, with 20,000 people down there selling marijuana, it’s the most peaceful, happy, friendly event that you’ve ever seen,” Larsen says.
A sensible solution?
Larsen is angling for marijuana to be accepted for more than just one day out of the year. Larsen launched a campaign called Sensible BC to decriminalize marijuana once and for all.
But Sensible BC faced a jurisdictional obstacle: the laws criminalizing marijuana are federal, but law enforcement is under the province’s control.
So instead of aiming for all-out legalization — a task which would require overturning sections of Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act — Larsen decided to settle for change at the provincial level. Sensible BC proposes an amendment to British Columbia’s Police Act that would force law enforcement to de-prioritize marijuana as a crime, essentially decriminalizing the drug….”