VERNON - It's not the referendum a B.C. marijuana activist is worried about, it's getting on the ballot. If they can do that, Dana Larsen says it will be smooth sailing towards the decriminalization of cannabis.
"British Columbians are ready for this," he said today from Vernon's Bean Scene coffee house. "I think we've planned this pretty well."
Larsen was recently given the go ahead from Elections B.C. to move forward with a petition that would put marijuana reform before British Columbians in the form of a referendum. The Sensible Policing Act would direct all police in B.C. to stop spending any time or resources on searching, seizing or arresting anyone for simple cannabis possession. Essentially, it would be a first step in decriminalizing, and then legalizing marijuana, Larsen says.
To get on the ballot, Larsen and his canvassers must collect the signatures of ten per cent of registered voters in each of the province's 85 ridings by November. Larsen and his Sensible B.C. campaigners can start collecting signatures Sept. 9, giving them just two months to gather the necessary support.
A referendum of this kind has only been successful once before—in abolishing the HST.
"The HST was led by a former premier which we don't have on our side with this," Larsen says. "It had unions, the NDP—a whole organizational infrastructure we don't really have."
Nevertheless, Larsen feels the campaign has made up for that with a long-term planning approach set in motion almost a year ago.
Larsen was in Vernon last fall spreading awareness about the SensibleBC campaign and asking people to pre-register for the petition, so that when the two month window comes, a lot of the legwork will already be done.
"I'm feeling confident, but it's very, very challenging," Larsen says. "It's definitely a huge hill we have to climb."
Because Larsen needs the support of ten per cent of voters in every B.C. riding, he's making a point of visiting communities in person.
"We can reach people on the internet— we have 50,000 likes on Facebook and 30,000 people pre-registered—but really you have to be in the same room as someone to actually inspire them," Larsen says. "They can then spread that message to people they know, their friends, family, and neighbours."
According to SensibleBC polls, and others, 70 per cent of British Columbians are in favour of decriminalizing marijuana.
"We found that with voters from every party, there was a majority of support," Larsen says. "Even with Conservatives, there was 58 per cent in favour. It's an issue that every demographic, every age group, every political affiliation, had majority support for."
"Winning the referendum will be the easy part, the hard part is physically collecting all these signatures— about 400,000 in 60 days," Larsen says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.