Four former B.C. attorneys general are joining a coalition of health and justice experts calling for the legalization of marijuana.
Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant have all signed a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, calling on the politicians to endorse legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.
The former attorneys general say the move would help reduce gang violence associated with the illegal marijuana trade, raise tax revenues and ease the burden on the province's court system.
"As former B.C. attorneys general, we are fully aware that British Columbia lost its war against the marijuana industry many years ago," the letter reads.
"The case demonstrating the failure and harms of marijuana prohibition is airtight. The evidence? Massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety, and significant — and escalating — costs to taxpayers."
'Dismayed' by mandatory minimum sentencing
The letter goes on to say that as attorneys general, the four men were responsible for overseeing the province's justice system and are well aware of the "burden" imposed on the court system by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition.
"We are therefore dismayed that the B.C. government supports the federal government’s move to impose mandatory minimum sentences for minor cannabis offences," says the letter. "These misguided prosecutions will further strain an already clogged system, without reducing cannabis prohibition-related violence or rates of cannabis use."
The letter goes on to compare today's marijuana laws to alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 1920s.
"It is time B.C. politicians listened to the vast majority of B.C. voters who support replacing cannabis prohibition in favour of a strictly regulated legal market for adult marijuana use," the letter reads.
Premier Christy Clark responded to the letter Tuesday, saying the decision isn't hers to make.
"I am going to leave the marijuana debate to the federal government," she said. "It's in their sole sphere of responsibility, so as a premier I respect that former attorneys general have taken this stand, people who are outside of politics, but as a premier I'm going to leave this to the federal government."
Growing organized crime network
In an interview with CBC News, Plant acknowledged B.C. politicians can't change federal law, but said this is about adding to the chorus of voices calling for the legalization of marijuana.
"I think the goal here is to add momentum to what is an increasingly public groundswell of a demand that governments recognize that the so-called war on drugs, the marijuana prohibition — it's not reducing the incidences of the use of marijuana," he said.
"Instead, it's feeding this huge and growing organized crime network that's causing people to get shot in the streets."
Plant said the aim is to get public policy in line with reality.
"There's evidence that indicates as many as 400,000 British Columbians that are regular consumers of marijuana. When they are possessing it, they're breaking the law and yet it seems that that's tolerated," he said.
"We like to think that in Canada we live in a society governed by the rule of law, but if one in 10 British Columbians exist outside that … it's almost kind of a joke to think that we truly believe in the rule of law when we are willing to tolerate behaviour that is, on the face of it, unlawful."
The former attorneys general join four former Vancouver mayors and the Health Officers Council of B.C. in their endorsement of Stop the Violence BC’s call to legally regulate the sale of marijuana under a public health framework.
Stop the Violence BC is a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, public health officials and academic experts from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and the University of Northern B.C.