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Local canvassers collect signatures for marijuana referendum
The winds were blustering and several times signs and a small table blew over. But that didn’t stop a small group of determined volunteers from standing on Main Street Sunday to promote a petition calling for the end of marijuana prohibition in B.C.
The streets of Osoyoos were quiet on a chilly Sunday afternoon, but pedestrians and motorists stopped periodically to sign the Sensible BC Marijuana Referendum petition.
Standing by the road and holding up a banner was Heather Pinske, a 27-year-old mother of a young toddler, who is the unofficial lead canvasser in Osoyoos.
It’s hard to find the time to canvass, she says, but petition organizers face a tight deadline.
Sensible BC is trying to force a province-wide referendum on marijuana using the same process that Bill Vander Zalm and others used to force a referendum rescinding the HST.
It’s a difficult procedure, requiring signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding in the province.
The campaign kicked off Sept. 9, but organizers must collect more than 400,000 signatures across the province by Dec. 5 in order to force a referendum. That could be an uphill battle in some parts of the province.
Pinske is confident that enough names can be collected in Boundary-Similkameen, but regional organizer Amanda Stewart, who came down from Penticton to help her Sunday, said more volunteers are urgently needed.
“We’re fairly lucky because our riding covers everything from Grand Forks to Keremeos,” said Pinske. “We did a bunch of canvassing at Festival of the Grape and the guys over in Greenwood and Midway are having a lot of success because a lot of the people over there are in the demographic of old hippies and they’ve been waiting for it to be legalized since the 60s.”
The video store, Yore Movie Store, on Main Street now has copies of the petition that people can drop in and sign, said Pinske, adding this will make it easier to collect names.
Canada’s marijuana law is federal, but policing in British Columbia comes under the provincial B.C. Police Act.
If successful, the referendum would put forward a Sensible Policing Act directing police in the province not to use police resources to enforce laws against the simple possession of cannabis.
The campaign would aim first for decriminalization of marijuana possession and subsequently at legalization.
Many people willingly sign the petition, but others are hostile and one woman suggested Pinske was a pothead, she said.
“I said you don’t have to be a pothead to realize prohibition is a bit ridiculous,” Pinke said. “I don’t consider myself a pothead.”
Pinske did admit she uses it recreationally “every once in awhile.”
In Pinske’s view, alcohol is much worse and more harmful to people and society in general, yet is legally available, while people who want to smoke a joint at the end of the day are treated as criminals.
She rejects the argument that decriminalizing cannabis will lead to an increase in people driving under its influence.
Although she emphasizes that people shouldn’t drive when they’re high, she argues those who do tend to be more cautious and drive slower and are not prone to road rage.
She also disagrees with those who think cannabis use will increase with legalization.
“Most people who use it are going to use it even if it’s not allowed,” she said noting that paradoxically it becomes harder for teens and youth to purchase it from a controlled legal market than from the black market.
Reaction from the public is split, she said.
“Either people are really great and appreciative or they’re really kind of negative about it because they believe the propaganda that’s been pushed on people since the 60s and 70s,” Pinske said. “It’s either one or the other usually.”