by Phillip Smith
Four of Vancouver's last five former mayors called this week for end of marijuana prohibition, saying anti-pot policies have failed to reduce marijuana's availability and that prohibition has fueled violence in British Columbia communities. Thursday evening, current Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined his predecessors, adding his voice to the call.
In an open letter released Wednesday, former mayors Mike Harcourt (1980-1986), Philip Owen (1993-2002), Larry Campbell (2002-2005), and Sam Sullivan (2005-2008) called on the province's politicians to legalize and regulate pot in BC. The letter was released by Stop the Violence BC, which just last month published a report outlining the links between pot prohibition and organized crime and violence and calling for a regulated, public health approach to marijuana.
"Marijuana prohibition is — without question — a failed policy," the former mayors wrote. "It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer; they must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition."
The ex-mayors' intervention comes as the Canadian federal government of Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper is attempting to push through a crime bill that would, among other things, impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing as few as five plants. But that's not a popular position in British Columbia, where a recent Angus Reid poll had support for taxing and regulating marijuana at 69%. It is past time for elected officials to get on board the marijuana reform bandwagon, the ex-mayor's said.
"Clearly, elected officials are out of step with their public on marijuana prohibition," they wrote. "It is time that elected officials enter the debate and deliver specific proposals to address the easy availability of cannabis to youth and the organized crime concerns stemming directly from cannabis prohibition."
One elected official who has heeded that call is current Vancouver Mayor Robertson. In a tweet sent out Thursday evening, Robertson said, "Good to see 4 Vancouver ex-mayors calling for end of cannabis prohibition. I agree, we need to be smart and tax/regulate."
In British Columbia, at least, the wall of silence by elected officials around legalizing marijuana has been breached. Whether that will lead to BC retaking its spot in the vanguard of pot law reform worldwide remains to be seen, but it's a good start.