Kelowna mayor didn't feel comfortable signing pro pot letter

Kelowna's mayor says he was at the meeting in which several Okanagan mayors were asked to sign a letter supporting the decriminalization of marijuana.

But unlike his Lake Country, Enderby, Armstrong and Vernon counterparts, Walter Gray declined, offering instead to petition the Union of B.C. Municipalities to  include Stop The Violence B.C. in a forum at its annual convention in September to "start a national dialogue" on the issue.

"We were all asked to sign on but I felt it was a big leap for a (newly elected) mayor to make at that time," Gray said Monday. Gray was re-elected mayor of Kelonwa in November after nine-years ut of public office. Five of his eight councillors are rookies.

The meeting with Stop The Violence, a group dedicated to either legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in B.C. to reduce the involvement of organized crime and curtail increasing police budgets needed to fight the problems associated with the current pot prohibition, took place in Kelowna about six weeks ago, said Gray.

Last week, the four Okanagan mayors, along with their counterparts in Vancouver, Burnaby the City of North Vancouver and the small Vancouver Island village of Metchosin, released a letter they sent to Premier Christy Clark, NDP leader Adrian Dix and B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins calling on the province to regulate and tax marijuana in a bid to take the drug out of the hands of criminals.

Gray, while he has not formulated a personal position on legalizing or decriminalizing pot, or had direction from his council, he has sent his letter to the UBCM. As of Monday, he had not received a reply.

He said Stop The Violence has, however, been invited to publicly address Kelowna council directly on the issue at an upcoming public council meeting.

The mayor, who said he believes the issue is a federal one and ultimately needs to be adressed at that level, said it is important that the public let the government in Ottawa know exactly how it feels about the issue.

"I believe that something as sensitive as this needs the Canadian public to send a strong signal to government," said Gray.

So far, publicly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he has no intention of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

Despite that position, Gray said he is happy to try and start national conversation on the issue and he hopes the UBCM will be that forum.

The mayors who signed the letter to the provincial politicians said they are concerned about growing levels of violence in their communities as a result of Canada's current marijuana laws, the presence of organized crime and the costs to deal with those issues.

“Given the ongoing gang activity, widespread availability of marijuana and high costs associated with enforcement, leaders at all levels of government must take responsibility for marijuana policy,” the letter said. “We are asking you as provincial leaders to take a new approach to marijuana regulation.”

The mayors’ letter comes after four former B.C. attorneys general — including former B.C. premier and federal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh — called for marijuana decriminalization in February. Former Vancouver mayors Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan and Philip Owen made a similar call for pot decriminalization late last year.

Gray said he would like to see a forum at the UBCM meeting in September because that could include other points of view necessary for a proper discussion of the issue.

He agreed a concern for municipalities is the level of funding for policing due to drug crimes and said he was told 70 per cent of all drug crimes in this country are related to marijuana. The mayors who sent the letter to Clark, Dix and Cummins estimated the production and sale of marijuana in B.C. is now a $7 billion a year industry.

Gray said if marijuana is to be decriminalized, it should also be regulated and taxed.

















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