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Marijuana petitioners face possible defeat, eye relaunch

Sensible BC marijuana reform campaigner Dana Larsen. - facebook.com
Sensible BC marijuana reform campaigner Dana Larsen.
— image credit: facebook.com

Dana Larsen isn't conceding defeat yet, but the head of the Sensible BC campaign to reform marijuana policing is already talking about another petition drive if the one now underway fails.

Canvassers have less than three weeks left before the Dec. 9 deadline to submit the petition bearing the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible voters in every B.C. riding.

They have around 150,000 signatures counted as of Nov. 19, or about half the number needed and far short of their target of 450,000 to provide a buffer against disqualified signatures.

"In at least half of the ridings we are struggling," Larsen said Tuesday, adding that means a quarter or less of the signatures have been gathered. "We have a long way to go."

Districts with the lowest numbers of signatures include Cariboo, Fort Langley, Langley, Abbotsford and Surrey-Tynehead, Larsen said.

Other areas where canvassers are doing well – either reaching their target or close to it – include Nelson, Creston, Vancouver's West End, Penticton, Kelowna, Port Alberni and the Similkameen.

"We always knew it was going to be a huge challenge going into the campaign," Larsen said. "Theres a lot of fear out there. People would love to sign the petition but say they'd lose their job or their employer told them not to. I find that disturbing that people are afraid to express a political opinion."

He said the main challenge has been the sheer logistics of collecting so many signatures in every riding in just 90 days.

He noted 50,000 signatures came in over the past week, adding a continued surge in the numbers up to the deadline could still put them "in the ballpark."

Campaigners aim to pass the proposed Sensible Policing Act to bar police from spending any time or resources enforcing the federal law against possessing small amounts of marijuana.

A successful petition would require the B.C. government to introduce the pseudo-decriminalization bill in the Legislature or else put it to a referendum like the one that defeated the harmonized sales tax. The government held that referendum after Fight HST forces gathered 705,000 petition signatures.

"Whether or not we get all the signatures we need, this campaign will absolutely continue," Larsen said, adding the "army" of supporters will push towards marijuana legalization on multiple fronts.

He said Sensible BC could stage a new petition in the months ahead and try again, potentially getting out of the gate faster by quickly re-registering the 4,000 canvassers now signed up.

"I don't think we will relaunch immediately," Larsen said, adding the group would take time to study what worked and what didn't in the event of defeat. "But almost certainly we would try again in the future."

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