Pro-pot forum planned in Langley

While Township facility was initially denied, Sensible BC will now host forum in council chambers on March 20.

Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen

The Sensible BC campaign to legalize marijuana possession in the province is coming to the Langley Township municipal hall.

The group will hold a public forum on Wednesday, March 20 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor Fraser River Presentation Theatre at 20338 65 Ave. on its plans for a province-wide referendum.

When it first applied to use the theatre, which is normally used for council meetings, the group was turned down.

Sensible BC Director Dana Larsen said he was told via email on Friday, March 1, that the Township was concerned Sensible BC was advocating “for what at this time is an illegal activity.”

Larsen appealed the decision and issued a strongly-worded statement on Monday, March 4, condemning the refusal by Township staff as “ideological censorship.”

“We are advocating to change the law, not to break it,” Larsen said.

On Tuesday, March 5, following an inquiry by The Times, the refusal was rescinded by the Township.

An email issued on behalf of Mayor Jack Froese said the decision to allow the forum does not amount to an endorsement of the Sensible BC 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.”

Larsen was pleased.

“It’s unfortunate that we get these kinds of problems,” he said.

He said the group is still putting together a speakers’ list for the Langley forum, but expects it will have the same mix as previous meetings which have featured current and retired politicians, former police officers and university experts.

The group has already held panels in Victoria, UBC and SFU.

Others are scheduled for March 6 in West Vancouver, and North Vancouver on March 9.

Sensible BC hopes to collect enough signatures to force a province-wide referendum on decriminalizing marijuana in  September of 2014.

Under BC law, 10 per cent of the registered voters in every one of BC’s 85 electoral districts must sign the petition within a 90-day-period.

The first 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.

Sensible BC plans to begin gathering signatures in September of this year.

In advance of the petition drive, the pro-pot organization has been holding public forums to encourage people to register and volunteer.

“Our goal is to build support,” Larsen said.

The B.C. campaign was launched in September of 2012, shortly before the November 2012 U.S. referendum that saw voters in nearby Washington State and Colorado legalize marijuana for personal use.

“That’s given us a big boost,” Larsen said.

He noted the Union of BC 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.

The lobby 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.”