Victoria calls for tax on pot rather than prohibition

City Council asks other municipalities to join in letters of support for regulation over prohibition

The City of Victoria is calling on the the government to 'do the right thing' and asking other municipalities to do the same.

City Council asks other municipalities to join in letters of support for regulation over prohibition

Victoria may not see pot shops allowing you to legally buy regulated marijuana anytime soon, but a recent motion from Victoria City Council has shown directed intent on the issue: a unanimous decision to support a regulatory approach to cannabis control over prohibition — and a request for surrounding municipalities to do the same.

The motion, which resolves that “The City of Victoria supports the taxation and regulation of cannabis to address the ineffectiveness and harm of cannabis prohibition,” was approved with no discussion upon its third reading at City Hall during the March 22 council meeting. The motion also states that the city “agrees to write to municipalities in the Capital Regional District, the Union of BC Municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Provincial and Federal Ministers in the Justice and Health departments to inform them of our support.”

City councillor Ben Isitt, who originally moved the motion and brought it to the attention of the Governance and Priorities Committee, says the importance of the motion lies in its symbolism as much as anything.

“I think the fact that a council with as diverse beliefs as ours did not have debate on this motion really speaks volumes,” says Isitt. “This motion is not so much an endorsement of marijuana use or any substance use as it is an acknowledgement of the failure of the war on drugs … and the fact that we have so much more important things to be using our resources on.”

While Isitt says he is unsure whether or not other municipalities in the region will pass similar motions, he is hopeful that others will see the value in cross-partisan support. Victoria joins Metchosin, Vancouver and a handful of other B.C. municipalities in taking an official stance.

“Of course, this action won’t have immediate waves, but it’s still important to go on record and call on the government to do the right thing when that is the right thing to do,” says Isitt. “Harm reduction is the safest option on the war on drugs, and regulation helps to ensure that safety.”

With increasing strain on the medical and recreational use of cannabis thanks to the criminalization regulation of the Conservative government’s Bill C-10, Victoria MP Denise Savoie says while actions like these may not force change alone, cumulatively they are of utmost importance.

“We’ve seen Bill C-10 be proposed with massive opposition, and the Conservative government still moved forward. We know it’s going to cost a lot of money and drain resources, and the Conservative government still moved forward,” says Savoie. “So we know this is going to take a lot of ground work and a lot of effort, but the more efforts like this we see, the harder it is going to be for the prime minister to maintain support for his regressive drug policies.”

Savoie says that while she’ll happily pass on all letters and messages to the government from her local constituents, it is going to take a lot more than that to make the PM change his mind. Still, she hopes to see motions like this grow across the country and as it does, she says, it will begin to have more clout.

But while Victoria’s motion won’t change drug policy, it can have a role in how the local police force prioritizes its policing. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says that although the province considers this to be a federal issue, the practicalities of how laws are carried out are largely up to the local levels.

“There are instances, of course, where police will set cannabis regulation and control as the lowest-level priority, where they turn a blind eye to smoke-ins and where an amount of discretion is used in the pursuit of that patrolling,” Kendall says.

Kendall could not comment on whether or not the province supports a similar regulatory approach to cannabis use, adding again that this is a federal issue. And, despite Monday’s attempts to contact both the premiere’s office and the minister of health, all offices stated that the issue was federal and would not be commented on at the provincial level. However, Kendall agrees that change is needed.

“I think it’s clear that the current approach is not very effective. When cannabis and any drugs are in the hands of organized crime, it’s totally unregulated and there is nothing safe about that,” he says. “If you recognize that cannabis is not without its harms, then by regulation and taxation you have a better chance of keeping it out of the hands of people you don’t want to have it.” M

Read about the Healing Side of Cannabis: an interview with Gayle Quin of Victoria’s Cannabis Buyers Club.

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