The war on drugs has become too expensive, the wife of imprisoned marijuana activist Marc Emery told a Langley meeting on a proposed new law to limit pot possession arrests.
Jodie Emery was speaking at a Wednesday, March 20 meeting at the Township municipal hall arranged by Sensible BC, a group that is planning a public referendum on a law that would direct police to ease up in cases of possessing marijuana for personal use.
About 50 people turned out for the evening meeting.
Emery noted one study suggests it costs B.C. taxpayers $10.5 million a year to obtain convictions for simple marijuana possession, or about $8,750 per conviction.
“Even if you’ve never seen a joint in your life, you’re paying for it,” she said.
“Imagine the hospital stays that [amount of money] could pay for. How many laptops would that buy for schools?”
And it’s not just wasted taxpayer dollars, Emery told the audience, it’s the disruption to the people imprisoned and their families.
“It’s the human cost,” she said.
“The human toll.”
Her husband, Marc Emery, is currently serving a five-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison for selling marijuana seeds through the mail.
He is known in some circles as the “prince of pot,” a fact that led Sensible BC director Dana Larsen to introduce Jodie Emery as the “princess of pot” before she spoke at the Langley meeting.
She said B.C. should follow the lead of Washington State, where voters legalized marijuana for personal use in a November 2012 U.S. referendum, as did voters in Colorado.
“Our neighbour has legalized it and is moving forward,” Emery said.
Emery is the BC Green Party’s policing and crime critic, and will be running as the Green candidate in the Vancouver West End riding in the May 14 provincial election.
Lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who wrote the proposed B.C. law, told the forum it was inspired by a Seattle initiative passed 11 years ago that instructed law enforcement officers in the U.S. state to make marijuana “the lowest policing priority.”
The Washington policy has saved a “significant” sum of money without increasing crime, Tousaw said.
“There are more serious problems to deal with.”
Tousaw appealed to attendees to help sign up voters for the September ballot.
Under B.C. law, 10 per cent of the registered voters in every one of B.C.’s 85 electoral districts must sign the petition within a 90-day period.
The first, and so far, only time the law was successfully used was in August of 2011, when HST opponents forced a vote that got rid of the much-hated new tax.
“We can’t do anything without boots on the ground,” Tousaw said.
“We need help.”
The B.C. group is proposing an amendment to the Police Act that would instruct officers not to spend “any time, money or resources on cases of simple possession of cannabis.”
It would be called the Sensible Policing Act, and would, according to the campaign website, “effectively decriminalize the possession of cannabis in B.C., while leaving the rest of the laws in place.”
Victoria police officer David Bratzer, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Canada, said most police officers know prohibition isn’t working, even if they are reluctant to say so in public.
“We’ve been on the front lines of the war on drugs and we know it’s a failure,” Bratzer said.
Bratzer said his views do not represent those of his employer, and he was attending the Langley meeting on his own time.
The Langley forum was held in the fourth-floor Fraser River Presentation Theatre at the Township Municipal hall at 20338 65 Ave., a chamber which is normally used for council meetings.
The Township initially refused the application to use the hall, then withdrew its opposition after the mayor intervened.
The Township issued a written statement saying the decision to approve the use of the chamber did not amount to an endorsement of the campaign.
“The Township and mayor and council have taken no official position on this issue,” the statement said
“However, this is not a requirement for permitting user groups to use our facilities.”
Sensible BC has also held panels in Victoria, West Vancouver and North Vancouver, and at UBC and SFU.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities recently passed a motion in support of legalizing marijuana and polls suggest that only 14 per cent of B.C. residents support the current marijuana laws.