The Stop the Violence BC campaign and advocates for the legalization of marijuana are responding to comments made in last week’s emotionally charged city council meeting.
“I think the mayor [John Dooley] is well meaning,” said Dr. Evan Wood with the campaign. “But really we need an evidence-based and factual discussion. Clearly his views are inconsistent with the Chief Medical Officer of BC, the Health Officers Council representing all major regions of this province, let alone the voices of law enforcement and supreme court justices and other legal experts.”
Wood, who is a professor of medicine at University of BC and works at St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, has extensive experience in drug policy.
“I’m special advisor to the Global Commission on Drug Policy and head up an organization known as the International Centre for Science and Drug Policy. Most of the work that we have been involved with has been looking at heroin and HIV/AIDS and other things,” he said in an interview with the Star last week.
After working in the emergency room when people who had been shot in gang violence came into the hospital, Wood took an interest in working with colleagues in law enforcement to start a conversation around marijuana prohibition from a public health and safety perspective.
“You pretty much have to be quite distanced from reality to think that prohibition is achieving it’s intended objective” he said. “Marijuana is more freely and easily available today than at any time in our history. One of the objectives of Stop the Violence BC is to move to a place where your average British Columbian recognizes that the issues that are related to home invasions and organized crime and gang violence, hydro theft and all of these other things that increasingly common in our communities are actually a natural consequence of prohibition.”
The motion that was brought before council last week asked that Mayor Dooley send a letter to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the provincial and federal ministers in the justice and health departments, and Stop the Violence BC, to inform them of Nelson city council’s support of the campaign.
The debate became heated when Dooley said he would not sign a letter and that he would “go to the wall” in opposition to it.
“I won’t be signing this,” said Dooley at last week’s meeting. “If it is asked of me to sign it, I won’t, based on the mountain of information I have come up with myself. I did take time to read that on the website and the reality of the situation is that 80 per cent of the dope that is grown in BC is for export and legalizing marijuana will not eliminate the underground economy and it will not eliminate organized crime.”
Dooley along with councillors Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo asked that the issue be sent for analysis at the Union of BC Municipalities.
“The situation simply is not working and we need to have a sober and adult conversation that gets away from the rhetoric and ideology that has got us stuck in the quagmire that we’re in,” said Wood. “We know from the research that has gone into alcohol and tobacco, as examples, that there are regulatory tools that make regulation consistent with reducing rates of marijuana use and rage economic war on the biker gangs and groups that have really taken hold of the marijuana industry.”
WHO’S ON BOARD
Wood said the campaign has the support of experts from all major BC universities, former supreme court justices, and former and current law enforcement in addition to external groups like the Health Officers Council of Canada, the Chief Medical Officer of BC Perry Kendall.
“I think the mayor alluded to ‘retired’ attorney generals (during the council meeting), well these are people who were specifically tasked with dealing with the organized crime problems in BC and with their expertise they are saying that this is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s not just retired politicians, we recently had eight currently sitting mayors quite forcefully support an alternative approach.”
Local marijuana activists Dustin Cantwell and Philip McMillan who were at last week’s meeting echoed Wood’s statements.
“The thing is due to Stephen Harper’s introduction of Bill C10 (Safe Streets and Communities Act) and eventual passing of C10. There’s been a real national dialogue on drug policy and much of the dialogue is focused on the fact that prohibition isn’t working,” said Cantwell who is part of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, former owner of Holy Smoke and is a legal researcher on drug law and policy.
McMillan who is the facilitator and director of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club disputed statements that were made during the council meeting that the Stop the Violence BC campaign was driven by marijuana activists.
“Dooley was implying that activists were trying to do this back door, well Stop the Violence BC is actually made of former and current mayors of Vancouver, former Attorney Generals, doctors, former law enforcement, these are not pot activists,” he said. “Chris Bennett wasn’t involved, Philippe Lucas wasn’t involved, Hilary Black wasn’t involved, Marc Emery wasn’t involved, Jodie Emery wasn’t involved, I wasn’t involved. It came out of nowhere. Like Dustin said, it came out of that national discussion that we’re having now because of the crime bill that was passed with mandatory minimums on pot.”
While drug policy does fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, Wood said the discussion needs to be driven by local leaders.
“We really need local leaders speaking up about this because Ottawa doesn’t have a huge organized crime problem related to the cannabis industry, BC does. We need BC leaders talking about it,” he said. “Obviously the policies that are being implemented in Canada have huge repercussions for taxpayers in terms of mandatory minimum (jail sentences). Sending a young person to jail for minor cannabis use versus future employability and being a productive member of society when they are basically going to gang school — which is what our prisons are — just makes absolutely not sense.”
Nelson city council passed a motion 4-3 in favour of tabling the issue until after UBCM this fall.