Dana Larsen dreams of a future where his grandchildren will ask, "Wow, people really got arrested for the possession of cannabis?"
His utopia may seem radical, but it could become a reality if his SensibleBC campaign is successful.
Larsen, who operates an illegal yet tolerated cannabis dispensary in Vancouver, spoke to a group of over 40 members of the community last night at the Westbild Centre boardroom as part of his B.C. wide campaign. Vernon residents of all walks of life attended the presentation, crowding the boardroom and leaving standing room only.
Larsen's provincial tour is intended to raise awareness about the campaign and rally troops for a 2014 referendum he hopes will break new ground for the legalization of marijuana in B.C.
"The Sensible Policing Act directs all police in B.C. to stop spending any time or resources on searching, seizing or arresting anyone for simple cannabis possession," explained Larsen.
The act would amend B.C.'s Police Act without actually changing the illegal status of marijuana.
"It's a first step in decriminalizing, and then legalizing cannabis," said Larsen.
"If police aren't busting pot smokers, they can be out dealing with serious criminal offences."
Larsen noted that over 3,500 British Columbians were charged with simple possession of cannabis last year — close to double the rate of charges in any other province, and a rise of 60 per cent since 2006. In regards to minors consuming cannabis, and individuals driving impaired by the substance, Larsen said the Sensible Policing Act would involve the same charges as alcohol.
The decriminalization movement is picking up steam in B.C. On Sept. 26 of this year, delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Victoria voted to lobby the federal government to decriminalize marijuana. Lumby mayor Kevin Acton, and Armstrong mayor Chris Pieper both voted in support of the action. Vernon mayor Rob Sawatzky didn't attend the vote, but has publicly stated he supports decriminalization.
The U.S. states of Washington and Colorado recently legalized cannabis, giving the Sensible campaign quite a boost.
"The fact is, we have the power to change things here in Canada," said Larsen. "Every time, it is the citizens of these states that make change happen.
"The lawyers of Elections BC have confirmed that this legislation (the Sensible Policing Act) is within provincial jurisdiction and suitable for referendum."
The hitch is that Larsen needs signatures from 10 per cent of voters in every single one of B.C.'s 85 ridings in order to get the Sensible Policing Act included in the Sept. 2014 referendum.
"It's a very high threshold to get over," said Larsen.
But Larsen's hurdles don't end there. He must collect those signatures between Sept. and Nov. of 2013 for them to be valid. That's why he's getting a head start, asking people to pre-register so that when the time comes for the official signatures, he'll already know where to get them.
"Nothing bad will happen to anyone who signs up," said Larsen.
But Vernon didn't seem afraid. A filled page of pre-registered names drifted around the packed conference table, and numerous individuals indicated an interest in taking on major roles in collecting signatures next year.
"Remember, our goal is not to convert people; we've already got the numbers," Larsen told the group.