The pursuit of a sensible cannabis policy in BC

I am the Director of the Sensible BC campaign for a marijuana referendum. I’ve been working on marijuana reform for all of my adult life. I spent ten years as editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine, co-founded the Vancouver Seed Bank in 2005, and in 2008 started up the Vancouver Dispensary Society.

I am passionate about this issue because I see cannabis reform as a lynchpin that will affect many other areas of social policy. Legalization of marijuana will positively impact issues around civil rights, police resources, racial disparities, the economy, health care, the environment, and more. There’s no other plant on earth with the wide range of industrial, medicinal, environmental and social benefits that are available from the cannabis plant.

I launched the Sensible BC campaign in September 2012 to try to change this. I spent a year travelling around the province, giving presentations about our proposed legislation, the Sensible Policing Act, which would effectively decriminalize cannabis possession at the provincial level, while calling upon the federal government to repeal cannabis prohibition.

Part of our campaign is to dispel myths around marijuana enforcement in BC, including the perception that there is already a de-facto decriminalization here. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charges for cannabis possession in BC have doubled over the past six years, and are far higher than any other province. BC police made over 16,500 arrests for marijuana possession last year, resulting in 3,700 convictions, at a cost to taxpayers of over $10 million. Our legislation would redirect those police resources towards more serious crimes.

Canada’s marijuana laws are out of step with scientific research and public opinion. A majority of Canadians, and a strong majority of British Columbians, want marijuana to be decriminalized or legalized. Yet we have no political champions in BC, no provincial politicians have been willing to bring this issue to the forefront. That’s why we launched Sensible BC, so that the people could make their voice heard.

On September 9, we started the 90-day clock for collecting signatures for the referendum campaign. Just like the “Fight HST” campaign, we need to collect signatures from 10% of the registered voters in every single one of BC’s 85 electoral districts (well over 300,000 people). It is an incredibly difficult task, but if we are successful, then the BC Liberal government must either introduce the Sensible Policing Act into the Legislature, or put it forward for a public referendum.

As we enter the final 30 days to collect signatures, we have gathered less than half of the names that we need. However, with new volunteers and canvassers still streaming in, we’ve been getting many more signatures every week, and success is still within grasp for our team. Regardless of whether we get all the signatures required, we will continue to press the provincial government to take action on this issue. Skyrocketing arrests for marijuana possession are a poor use of police resources, and the people of BC are ready for decriminalization, and legalization, of our province’s lucrative cannabis industry.

To find out more or to register as a canvasser visit, or call our campaign office at 604-343-4684, or email me directly at

*Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC


Author: Dana Larsen 


The cannabis question: What is happening in BC?

No matter what you call it, cannabis, marijuana, pot or weed, this plant is a hot topic in BC. Our new blog series will try to shed some light on a variety of different, yet important facets of cannabis and its consumption. We will cover a number of different topics including the Sensible BC campaign, medical marijuana use, cannabis and driving, youth cannabis use, and guidelines around safe consumption of cannabis. We will also have guest bloggers from Colorado and Washington State weighing in on the implications of the recent cannabis legalization south of the border.

Here is a snapshot of what cannabis consumption currently looks like in BC. Ratesof both lifetime and past-year cannabis use have been higher in BC than the rest of Canada since 2008.  In fact, nearly 50% of British Columbians have tried cannabis at some point in their life, and approximately 16% of males and 10% of females in BC have used cannabis in the last year. Nationally, the prevalence of ever having used cannabis has gone down over the past five years, but has remained steady in BC and the prevalence of past year use has increased among males in BC since 2008.


These differences may partially reflect the large number of people who use medical marijuana in BC. Of the 28,000 licenses to possess dried marijuana issued in Canada by December 2012, nearly half of them (13,300) were in BC. This is nearly double that of any other province.  The reasons for the high rates of cannabis use among British Columbians are not clear, but cultural differences in the acceptability of use and easier accessibility may be contributing factors.

Over the last several decades, there has been a shift in public opinion on the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis in Canada. The most recent polls showed that nearly 70% of Canadians were in favour of either legalization or decriminalization of cannabis and this rate may be even higher among those in British Columbia. Currently, there is a campaign in BC led by the Sensible BC organization to have a marijuana referendum in 2014.  If they collect enough signatures by December 5th, BC will have a referendum to vote on decriminalizing cannabis in the province next year. The social climate around cannabis use in BC is changing. We hope this blog series will facilitate a better understanding of the often complicated culture of cannabis in BC and contribute to the lively discussions already happening around the province.

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Authors: Kate Vallance and Kara Thompson