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Mayors: The dope on regulating pot

A coalition of BC mayors is urging provincial political leaders to support the regulation and taxation of cannabis to better protect communities, reduce crime and undercut gang activity resulting from the illegal marijuana trade.

On Thursday morning, the coalition of eight mayors sent a letter addressed to Premier Christy Clark, NDP leader Adrian Dix and BC Conservative party leader John Cummins.

The list includes Vernon Mayor Robert Sawatzky, Lake Country Mayor James Baker, Armstrong's Chris Pieper,  Enderby's Howie Cyr and Vancouver's Gregor Robertson.

Through the encouragement of Stop the Violence BC, the mayors signed on to the letter, which asks the provincial leaders to take a new approach to marijuana regulation.

The mayors have stepped forward in an effort to draw attention to the issues of crime and violence directly related to marijuana prohibition, asking their counterparts across the province to join them.

“We are all well aware of the human, social and financial costs of marijuana prohibition, and it does not make sense to bear them any longer,” says Sawatzky.

“We invite mayors from across BC to consider the escalating costs of prohibition, and join our efforts to implement evidence-based cannabis policies that reflect our commitment as municipal leaders to community health and safety.”

In their letter, the mayors’ endorsed Stop the Violence BC (STVBC), a coalition of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts campaigning to reform cannabis laws.

The mayors join a growing list of recent high-profile endorsements, including four former mayors of Vancouver, the Health Officers Council of BC and four former BC Attorneys General.

Dr. Thomas Kerr, Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence and a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC, is also a member of STVBC.

"What we want to do is point out that much of this problem is being driven by marijuana production in BC and that despite all the efforts to try and control cannabis production and use, availability is higher than ever, prices have gone down and purity has gone up," says Kerr.

"All the available evidence shows that the current approach isn't working and that is also having the perverse effect of enriching organized crime and promoting violence."

Kerr adds that BC marijuana is being used to purchase cocaine connected to the Mexican Cartels responsible for the escalating violence there.

Kerr's group is optimistic that today's announcement points to a change in how politicians approach the debate.

"We have a situation where currently elected politicians, not former politicians, are sticking their necks out and saying enough is enough. Taxation and regulation is a better way to protect public health and safety and to save tax dollars currently being wasted on a policy that really only contributes to gang violence and organized crime."

STVBC also argues that legalization and regulation would eventually lead to a decrease in the number of recreational users. As proof, Kerr points to the success of anti-smoking campaigns.

"Some of the very large population level declines in cigarette smoking have occurred not through prohibition, but through public health messaging. If you tax cannabis and direct some of those funds towards public health activities, you can have some positive health impacts."

For a copy of the letter, visit Stop the Violence BC.

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