Herb Couch and Ann Remnant were on Baker Street collecting signatures for the Sensible BC campaign for a marijuana referendum. Supporters must collect signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding across the province to force a referendum on the issue of decriminalizing pot possession in 2014.

Marijuana petition hits the streets of Nelson

Canvassers in Nelson and across the province began collecting signatures for the Sensible BC marijuana petition Monday.

Canvassers in Nelson and across the province began collecting signatures for the Sensible BC marijuana petition Monday.

They now have 90 days to collect signatures from at least 10 per cent of registered voters in every provincial riding if they want to force a referendum on the question of decriminalizing pot possession in BC.

Herb Couch is organizing the effort in the Nelson-Creston riding. He says there are more than 20 volunteered canvassers registered to help collect signatures in the riding and he’s continuing to sign up more.

“We need all the help we can get,” Couch says. “We’re hoping to collect 15 per cent of voters here, just so we make sure we have a safety net.”

The petition asks people if they would support an initiative to amend the Police Act to no longer use provincial police resources on the enforcement of current laws in relation to simple possession and use of cannabis by adults.

“We find there’s a lot of people who are concerned about the soaring police costs related to cannabis prohibition and those people, like us, want the police to focus on real crimes,” Couch says. “Cannabis prohibition causes way too much harm, it doesn’t work.”

Under the proposal, minors caught with pot would face fines, not criminal charges, similar to the consequence for underage drinking. As well, the province would call on the federal government to repeal the national prohibition on cannabis or ask for an exception for BC, so this province could tax and regulate the sale and production of the drug.

“I think it’s time for a change with our cannabis laws,” Couch says. “People using marijuana are non-violent, regular citizens. They aren’t criminals.”

Marijuana possession cases still account for 60 per cent of drug violation reports to police in BC, according to Statistics Canada figures from 2012. But the number of cases declined 10 per cent from 2011.

There were 25,432 police-reported incidents of all types of drug offences in BC last year, a 7.4 per cent decline from 2011. Marijuana trafficking cases declined more than 20 per cent to 1,006 incidents, and importation and exportation of marijuana declined by 40 per cent.

Marijuana growing cases declined 4.6 per cent, following a 28.6 per cent drop in 2011.

— With files from Tom Fletcher