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Marijuana referendum petition fizzles but campaigners vow to fight on

Sensible BC
Sensible BC's Dana Larsen says the group's marijuana reform petition has failed to force a referendum, but is one step in a continuing push for change.
— image credit: File

The Sensible BC campaign to spark the decriminalization of marijuana in B.C. is officially up in smoke after falling short of its goal.

Pot activists got 210,000 signatures or about two-thirds of the 300,000 needed – 10 per cent of voters in all 85 B.C. ridings – for their initiative petition to potentially trigger a referendum. They had aimed for a target of 450,000 to provide a buffer against disqualified signatures.

"It's a pretty remarkable accomplishment," Sensible BC head Dana Larsen.

"We've definitely demonstrated a high level of organization and support for this cause. Had we been operating under the rules of pretty much any other referendum system in the world, we would have qualified to be on the ballot."

He said the 4,500 registered petitioners – triple the number at the start of the 90-day campaign – reached the threshold required by Elections BC in 19 electoral districts and got at least eight per cent in five more.

Successful local campaigns happened on much of Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and other parts of the Interior.

But in the vote-rich Lower Mainland that holds the most districts, marijuana advocates came up short.

They reached the 10 per cent threshold in just Vancouver-West End and Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, with no other local wins in the rest of Metro Vancouver or the Fraser Valley. They came closest in the three North Shore ridings with eight per cent plus.

Sensible BC aimed to compel the province to pass legislation banning police from expending any time and resources on simple marijuana possession.

Larsen said canvassers were harried in some areas by opponents and at times by calls to police as they tried to collect signatures on SkyTrain and BC Ferries.

The outcome is nowhere near the 700,000 signatures gathered by Fight HST forces en route to their winning referendum.

But Larsen argues the province must now look "very seriously" at the marijuana issue, particularly as states such as Washington and Colorado move to full pot legalization.

He says history shows even failed campaigns can have impact.

A prior initiative in 2002 pushing proportional representation got 98,000 signatures but led to a citizens assembly on electoral reform and ultimately two referendum questions on the issue.

Signatures were being delivered to Elections BC Monday and Larsen said Sensible BC will take a break over Christmas before deciding when to mount a new petition campaign, along with other forms of political engagement.

"We're definitely going to do it again," he said.

 

Districts where Sensible BC says it reached 10 per cent

Alberni – Pacific Rim
Boundary – Similkameen
Columbia River – Revelstoke
Comox Valley
Kootenay East
Kootenay West
Nanaimo – North Cowichan
Nechako Lakes
Nelson – Creston
North Coast
Peace River South
Penticton
Powell River – Sunshine Coast
Skeena
Vancouver – Mount Pleasant
Vancouver – West End
Victoria – Beacon Hill
Victoria – Swan Lake
Westside – Kelowna

See Sensible BC's full list of riding results

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