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Pot referendum pipe dream up in smoke

The push to hold a province-wide pot referendum in B.C. appears to be getting stamped out instead of sparking change.

Marijuana advocacy group Sensible BC rolled out a petition in September to hold a referendum on decriminalizing pot possession, with a goal of collecting more than 400,000 signatures by Dec. 9.

But with one week to go, the group has only netted about half of the signatures it needs to trigger a vote on the divisive issue.

Sensible BC spokesman Dana Larsen said while canvassers have seen some success in rural areas, connecting with people in Metro Vancouver and Victoria has been their biggest challenge.

“We’re looking at just over half the signatures we need, it’s been a challenge,” Larsen told CTV News. “It’s not so much the public support, although there is a stigma around this issue as well.”

If Sensible BC gathers support from ten per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 85 ridings, B.C. will be forced to either hold a non-binding referendum or vote on the issue in the legislature.

In a referendum, British Columbians would vote on whether or not to pass the so-called Sensible Policing Act, an amendment to the BC Police Act which would decriminalize possession of marijuana.

Larsen said despite supporting the effort, some people remain concerned over the consequences of signing the petition – fearing they could lose their job or be banned from crossing the border if authorities find out.

“Those fears are not really based in any kind of reality. Nothing bad is going to happen to anyone for signing on board with this,” he said. “I didn’t expect that to be a big problem, but it has. People are just afraid of signing our petition sometimes.”

The Sensible BC campaign has been the second-most successful in the province’s history, with only the petition to hold a vote on the Harmonized Sales Tax garnering more signatures, according to Larsen. The 2010 ‘Fight HST’ campaign was the first and only successful citizen-initiated petition in B.C.’s history.

“It’s designed to fail,” Larsen said. “There’s no question that British Columbia’s referendum system is designed to give the appearance of democracy, while not actually having it.”

Similar pot reform campaigns in Colorado and Washington State have succeeded – a result of those states’ comparably relaxed referendum laws, Larsen said.

“If we were in any of those American states, this effort would have succeeded…The amount of signatures we’ve gotten would’ve qualified us on the ballot in Washington and Colorado and pretty much any other American state,” he said.

Despite it looking like Sensible BC’s campaign will go up in smoke by this time next week, Larsen said the group will continue to push for the Sensible Policing Act.

“Sensible BC is here to stay,” he said. “You can be quite sure we’re going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don’t succeed this time. We’re not going away.”

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