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Petition campaign aims to decriminalize marijuana possession
Sam Belleau hopes to become a familiar face over the next few months in the Burnaby-Lougheed riding where he's approaching strangers and politely asking if they'd like to see marijuana possession decriminalized.
Belleau, 29, is the local organizer in the riding for the Sensible BC campaign which aims to secure enough signatures on a petition—over 400,000 from across the province—to trigger a 2014 referendum to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The referendum would call on the provincial government to amend the BC Police Act so people would not be criminally charged for possession for their personal use. It would not affect current laws around trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, or cultivation.
A successful referendum would also push the provincial government to call on Ottawa to repeal the prohibition of marijuana, and allow it to regulate and tax it like alcohol and tobacco.
"It's something I've wanted to see happen in B.C. We've just been relying on the whims of politicians for years and years and elections and elections and surprisingly, it hasn't happened," said Belleau.
"And now it's been happening down south it's like a kick in the butt for us to get it going, that's how I feel about it."
In Greater Vancouver it's rare for people to be charged with possession but that's not the case in other parts of the province, he said. Thousands of people, mainly in smaller towns, are still charged every year.
"Marijuana smokers are non-violent people, everybody knows somebody. It doesn't make any sense we're still criminalizing it in this day and age."
About a decade ago, Belleau himself was arrested twice and thrown in jail for possession but never charged.
One incident occurred when he was in a park but the other he claims took place in his Edmonds-area home at the time, where he was smoking indoors with a friend. He believes the police officer must have smelled it from outside, prompting him to knock on his door and eventually arresting him.
"It's a very scary experience … It kind of makes you feel like you don't have rights even though you do."
As for why he was never charged, "I think they just want to teach people a lesson sometimes, scare you."
Siu Ming Wong, 27, the local organizer for the Burnaby-Deer Lake riding, said of marijuana, "it has saved my life in the past." He declined to say what type of health problem he dealt with but said pot helped him to overcome it.
He is also critical of the amount of money and resources spent on charging and prosecuting people for marijuana possession.
"They're just wasting a lot of taxpayers' money."
To have a province-wide referendum in September 2014, 10 per cent of registered voters in each riding must sign the Sensible BC petition before Dec. 5.