Marijuana is about to become legal in Washington State after Tuesday's election.

What the US marijuana vote means to the Kootenay

Washington State now has a more progressive marijuana law than BC.

Washington State now has a more progressive marijuana law than BC.

In Tuesday’s United States election, 55 per cent of Washington voters supported a state initiative to make it legal for residents to have up to an ounce of marijuana in their possession for recreational use. Colorado voters also supported a similar initiative.

Previously both states only allowed possession of marijuana for medical purposes, which is also what’s permitted in Canada.

Don Skogstad, a criminal lawyer who splits his time between Nelson and Penticton, supports Canada-wide drug reform and has become the go-to lawyer for people in this area facing drug-related charges. He said unlike across the border where marijuana laws can change state by state, BC can’t legalize recreational marijuana on its own. Ottawa would have to make that decision for the whole country.

With Stephen Harper leading a Conservative majority parliament, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Both Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair are opposed to legalizing marijuana, though Mulcair would support decriminalizing it. The federal Liberals, however, say they would legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana similar to alcohol, which pollsters say is what a majority of Canadians want.

“If the people had the same say in this country as they do in the US, Canadians would vote to do the same thing Washington did,” Skogstad told the Star.

An Ipsos Reid survey conducted this summer found that 66 per cent of Canadians believe it should be legal to carry a small amount of marijuana.

Union of BC Municipalities members, including Nelson council, voted in September to begin lobbying for the decriminalization of marijuana.

In the meantime, Vancouver pot activist Dana Larsen hopes to use BC’s Recall and Initiative Act — the same legislation used to repeal HST in BC — to force the province to hold a non-binding referendum to ask whether voters want police in the province to enforce federal drug laws.

Nelson Police Department chief Wayne Holland said there are other issues his department could focus more attention on if officers weren’t obligated to charge people caught carrying small amounts of pot.

“Law enforcement follows the direction of citizens,” Holland said. “Lawmakers and policy makers should speak for the majority of society when they tell us how to direct our resources.”

Both Holland and Skogstad agree that the change in Washington law could help address myths about the harm legalized marijuana would cause to society.

“People will see the state isn’t going into wreck and ruin just because marijuana is available,” Skogstad said. “Even since the legalization of medical marijuana, both north and south of the border, people are realizing it’s not the boogyman they thought it was.”

Canadians will also see how much money governments can make by taxing the sale of marijuana. Washington expects to collect $560 million in the first year from a planned 25 per cent tax on the licensed sale of marijuana in its state liquor stores.

“Maybe our government will realize they could use that kind of windfall,” Skogstad said.

As for what the new, legal marijuana markets in Washington and Colorado will mean for BC pot growers who illegally export their product to the United States, Skogstad doesn’t think there will be a lot of change.

“There are still 48 other states to sell BC bud to,” he said, noting California will continue to be a major importer.

He also said BC pot users probably won’t have much luck if they try to go over the border to pick up weed, since only Washington State residents will be legally allowed to purchase the product in stores, and bringing it back over the border would mean getting it past federal officials. More likely, they’ll just continue to buy from their regular source.

“People who use marijuana recreationally know where to get it and that’s not going to change,” Skogstad said.

“Whether marijuana is legal or illegal people are still going to grow it and people are still going to buy it. The difference is who profits from it.”

 

***

What’s the difference between legalized and decriminalized marijuana?

Legalized marijuana is what Washington now has. Legal penalties for using the product have been removed and new regulations for production and distribution will be developed. Alcohol is an example of a legalized substance.

Decriminalized marijuana is what the Netherlands have. Possession and production of the product for personal use is still technically illegal, but offenders won’t be criminally charged. Instead, other penalties are in place, such as fines, that don’t result in a criminal record.

Just Posted

Kootenay Lake’s first marine waste pump-out opens

Sewage facility is located at the Prestige marina

1919: Nelson doctor drowns in Kootenay Lake saving child

And other news from a century ago in the Nelson Daily News

Lily Taylor, Levi Taylor win medals at Ogopogo Open

The local weightlifters were among seven Nelson athletes competing at the event

CHECK THIS OUT: Read B.C.! A roundup of books about our fair province

The Nelson Library’s Anne DeGrace gives us a B.C. Day book list

Nelson Leafs trade goalie Hunter Young to Rockies

Nelson will have an all-new duo between the pipes next season

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read