B.C. activists cheer Washington pot vote

B.C. activists cheer Washington pot vote

Marijuana activists in British Columbia are hailing the decision by Washington State voters to legalize pot, hoping the move will bolster their efforts to decriminalize the drug in the province.

During Tuesday’s presidential election, Washington residents voted on ballot initiative 502, which will make marijuana legal in the state as of Dec. 6. Consumers over the age of 21 will be able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana at licensed retail shops.

The initiative also calls for a standard limit of pot in the bloodstream for driving under the influence.

A similar measure also succeeded in Colorado, but failed in Oregon, Washington’s neighbour.

While estimates suggest the move will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the U.S., it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will weigh in on the matter.

Due to Washington State’s proximity to B.C., activists there hope the initiative’s passage will be the shot in the arm that their campaign needs.

Marijuana advocate Jodie Emery, whose husband, Marc Emery, is in a U.S. jail for selling cannabis seeds from B.C. via mail order to American customers, said earlier this week that a vote in favour of legalizing pot would be evidence that the U.S. war on drugs had failed and that a new approach is necessary.

“This month, the Harper government’s mandatory minimum (sentences) for pot have come into effect all across Canada, which demonstrates that we’re going the wrong way and the U.S. is going the right way,” Emery told CTV British Columbia. “We want to follow the U.S. example of making more progressive laws, keeping people out of prisons, taking money away from gangs, making everyone safer. That’s the approach we need.”

Activist Dana Larsen, founder of Sensible BC, a movement to decriminalize pot in the province, took to Twitter early Wednesday to say he was “pleased with the cannabis victories in WA and Co.”

Larsen’s proposed “Sensible Policing Act” has three stipulations: that the federal government allow the province to legalize marijuana; that a commission be established to determine the parameters for legalizing pot in the province; and that police immediately stop searching, seizing or arresting anyone for cannabis possession in the province.

“I hope Obama loosens up & lets these states implement sensible cannabis laws,” Larsen tweeted.

In a subsequent tweet, Larsen lamented that north of the border, “we now have Harper’s mandatory minimums for major pot crimes.”

Bill C-10, known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, includes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.

Earlier this year, the legislation drew criticism from a group of current and former law enforcement officials in the United States, who wrote a letter to the Canadian government saying that anti-marijuana laws have devastating social consequences, including an increase in organized crime activity and gang violence.

The group, which calls itself Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, argued in its letter that mandatory minimums for minor marijuana offences “have been such costly failures in the United States,” saying they do little to improve community safety.

Four former BC attorneys general also spoke out early in the year, and blamed marijuana prohibition for ongoing gang wars and an overburdened criminal justice system.

At the time, the federal government said it had no plans to legalize marijuana, a position it reiterated Wednesday in the wake of Washington’s vote.

CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian reported that the Prime Minister’s Office issued a terse statement on the Washington initiative.

“Other jurisdictions are free to do as they please,” read the statement. “This government will not be legalizing marijuana.”

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