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Activists on a high after US dope vote

BC marijuana activists on Wednesday described the passage of an initiative legalizing marijuana in Washington state as the biggest victory they have had in a long time.

Many say it shows that decriminalization can be done, hopefully leading to similar steps being taken in this province.

"The fear here in Canada is the Americans will punish us if Canada was to liberalize our marijuana laws, but with two American states, Washington and Colorado, passing similar laws that means there is no need to be afraid of the American response anymore," says Dana Larsen, director of the Sensible BC campaign.

Ballot initiative 502, passed Tuesday night, makes marijuana legal in Washington as of Dec. 6. People over the age of 21 will be able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana at licensed retail shops.

Laws prohibiting driving under the influence will also be amended to include maximum thresholds for THC blood concentration.

A similar measure succeeded in Colorado, but an effort to legalize marijuana in Oregon did not pass.

Larsen said the passage comes at a particularly important time for him. He is currently traveling the province to meet with supporters and promote the Sensible BC decriminalization campaign.

The goal of the campaign is to call upon the BC government to pass the sensible policing act which will redirect all police in the province from making searches, seizures or arrests in the cases of simple cannabis possession.

The act will also set up a public commission to figure out the best path toward a legally regulated and taxed cannabis system in BC.

Ultimately, Sensible BC hopes to collect enough signatures, province-wide, to hold a referendum on the issue in 2014.

Calls placed to RCMP Sgt. Duncan Pound, a media relations officer, on the matter were not returned.

People on the streets of Kelowna also took the passage of the initiative as a positive sign.

"I hope Canada can see what is happening there and bring it up into this country," said a resident who identified himself as Scott. 'The amount of money the federal government spends on taking people to court over marijuana, could be better spent on cracking down on cocaine or heroin use."

Christine Gamble believes it will make a huge difference in the states where the initiative passed, and hopes to see something similar here.

"I think it will take away from a lot of the drug dealers and people crowding up the prisons with minor issues with marijuana," she said. "I take it as a good sign."

But on the same day that voters in two states approved the legalization of marijuana the Harper government in Ottawa was bringing into force tough new mandatory penalties for pot.

Tuesday was also the day that drug measures in the Conservative government's omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act came into full force and effect.

The new law provides a mandatory six month jail term for growing as few as six marijuana plants.

"Today our message is clear that if you are in the business of producing, importing or exporting of drugs you'll now face jail time," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said.

Kelowna resident Sarah, who declined to give her last name, remains optimistic the changes in the U.S. will bring change here as well.

"I still think that politicians will look at what is going on there and it will ultimately pave the way for decriminalization  here in BC," she said. "It's time. No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana."

With files from CTV.

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