If municipal politicians in British Columbia have their way, Canadians found in possession of small amounts of marijuana will one day receive a simple citation and will not incur a criminal record. What’s more, government officials will study the regulation and taxation of weed and if that’s determined to be plausible and beneficial, can legalization be far behind?
Well, maybe. The resolution adopted at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference last week in Victoria is merely a straw poll of some 1,500 elected local leaders, in one province. By most accounts, the vote was split — resolutions of this nature generally are voted on by voice response and, if that is indecisive, by a show of hands across the conference floor.
Furthermore, a vote of municipal officials means little, because the Criminal Code of Canada, which includes provisions making the possession of small amounts of pot a crime, is administered federally. Any change in the law would require federal approval, and the current Conservative government is unlikely to act on the advice of a slim majority of local leaders in the country’s most pot-friendly province.
Still, this is how change takes place in a representative, parliamentary democracy — which is to say, slowly, if at all. IF municipal leaders in all 10 provinces and three territories were to pass similar resolutions, and IF there were a different government in Ottawa, and IF the unelected Senate were so inclined… well, stranger things have happened. But don’t hold your breath, eh?
In Squamish, the discussion over Coun. Bryan Raiser’s motion on Sept. 18 lasted all of 10 minutes, and again, it was a split vote, with Mayor Rob Kirkham and councillors Ron Sander and Doug Race voting against.
We were, frankly, surprised to learn that Race argued that council didn’t have a mandate from the community to express its opinions on marijuana regulation, because it clearly did — when it was elected. Yes, marijuana wasn’t a huge issue during last year’s municipal campaign, but as Raiser stated, “One big job of being a councillor is talking to other levels of government” — including talking to them about issues that are outside local leaders’ authority.
Should council, as Sander argued, “be focusing on things that we have identified collectively as a community”? Of course, but this writer doesn’t think those 10 minutes were wasted. They were a prime example of representative democracy — glacially slow as it may be — in action.
— David Burke