Open letter to Premier Clark, Mr. Dix and Mr. Cummins:
Re: Discussion required on marijuana policy.
As mayors of B.C. municipalities, we are fully aware of the harms stemming from the province’s large illegal marijuana industry. Our communities have been deeply affected by the consequences of marijuana prohibition including large scale grow ops, increased organized crime and ongoing gang violence. Increasing law enforcement costs also significantly impact municipal budgets.
We see a seemingly endless stream of anti marijuana law enforcement initiatives in our communities, yet marijuana remains widely and easily available to our youth. Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences.
The case against current marijuana laws is compelling. Despite major taxpayer investments in law enforcement activities, the marijuana market has not been suppressed. Furthermore, the province’s massive illegal marijuana trade drives organized crime in B.C. and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Organized Crime Agency of B.C. estimates that organized crime groups control 85% of B.C.’s marijuana trade, which the Fraser Institute estimates is worth up to $7 billion annually. U.S. federal prosecutors have identified B.C. based drug gangs that control the marijuana trade as “the dominant organized crime threat in the Northwest.” Even though anti marijuana law enforcement is active and growing, marijuana potency is increasing while price is decreasing. Rates of use remain high. Youth report easier access to marijuana than to tobacco while organized crime reaps massive marijuana related profits. Given these facts, we conclude that a more effective, evidence based approach to controlling marijuana is urgently needed.
As B.C. mayors, we support the Stop the Violence BC campaign. It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework; regulating marijuana would allow the government to rationally address the health concerns of marijuana, raise government tax revenue and eliminate the huge profits from the marijuana industry that flow directly to organized crime. According to public health experts, strict regulation of the marijuana market may also reduce marijuana use. In fact, the success in reducing rates of tobacco use has been achieved through public health regulation, not prohibition.
We are also concerned about the policing and related law enforcement costs that will be placed upon municipalities due to proposed federal mandatory minimum sentencing legislation related to marijuana. Such prescribed and inflexible policies have proven costly and ineffective in the U.S.
We ask you to instead consider how a public health framework that calls for strict marijuana regulation and taxation can help address the intractable problems of gangs and gang violence in B.C.
Stop the Violence BC is not alone in its call for a regulated, public health approach to adult marijuana use. The Fraser Institute and the Health Officers Council of B.C., among others, have made similar recommendations and your B.C. public is onside. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, only 12 per cent of British Columbians support the current approach of marijuana prohibition, with the vast majority supporting taxation and regulation.
We recognize and fully understand public dissatisfaction with today’s marijuana laws. Therefore, we will be recommending that the Union of B.C. Municipalities support a motion in favour of taxation and regulation of marijuana. We also encourage politicians to speak their conscience, even if their views go beyond the silence coming from the political parties themselves.
Given the ongoing gang activity, widespread availability of marijuana and high costs associated with enforcement, leaders at all levels of government must take responsibility for marijuana policy. We are asking you as provincial leaders to take a new approach to marijuana regulation. Our communities, our youth and our public finances will benefit from an evidence based, public health approach to marijuana.
James Baker, Mayor of Lake Country; Chris Pieper, Mayor of Armstrong; Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver; Howie Cyr, Mayor of Enderby; Darrell Mussatto, Mayor of the City of North Vancouver; Robert Sawatzky, Mayor of Vernon; Derek Corrigan, Mayor of Burnaby; John Ranns, Mayor of the District of Metchosin.