Mayors from eight B.C. communities have added their voices to calls to the provincial government to regulate and tax marijuana as part of a strategy to end gang violence and make communities safer.
Mayors from Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver City, Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Lake Country and Metchosin made the argument in an April 26 letter to B.C.'s premier, Opposition NDP leader and B.C. Conservative Party leader.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was unavailable for comment Thursday, but Coun. Kerry Jang, who is also professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, said the current federal laws have failed.
Jang said the laws have led to increased organized crime, policing costs and the presence of grow-ops.
'It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework.' —B.C. mayors' letter
"To make matters worse, we just look around, certainly we see here in the City of Vancouver, that pot is more readily available than ever before," he said.
"Whatever the federal government policy is, is not working, and we're saying that we need a better approach, and that is to regulate it using a public health model, much as we do, for example, with tobacco or alcohol."
The letter appeared on the website of Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of law-enforcement officials, legal experts, academics and public health officials.
The group wants to develop and implement marijuana policies that reduce social harms like crime.
In their letter, the mayors argue prohibition has led to large-scale grow-ops, increased organized crime, ongoing gang violence, and larger police budgets.
Despite an "endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives," marijuana remains widely and easily available to youth.
"Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences," it states.
Based on statistics from the Organized Crime Agency of BC, the mayors state 85 per cent of the province's marijuana industry is controlled by criminal groups.
Using statistics from the right-of-centre policy group the Fraser Institute, the mayors also state the industry is worth $7 billion annually.
"It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework," they write, adding that such a move would allow the government to address health issues, raise government revenue and eliminate profits going to organized crime.
While the provincial NDP supports decriminalization, New Democrats understand the federal government has jurisdiction on the issue, said the party's justice critic Leonard Krog.
"It doesn't appear that the federal government has any interest in decriminalization," said Krog. "Indeed, they are moving forward with crime legislation that is going to jam our court system."
The Safe Streets and Communities Act includes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences and received royal assent on March 13.
Krog said there is a growing consensus among British Columbians that marijuana should be decriminalized and it's time to debate the issue.
B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins wouldn't say whether he supports or opposes decriminalization and taxation, but criticized several of the mayors' arguments.
"I think people are not thinking the things out carefully," he said.
Legalization will negatively impact trade with the United States and lead to longer waits at the border because border agents won't absorb extra security costs just to move traffic, he said.
Legalization will also negatively impact B.C.'s tourism industry, added Cummins.