Four former Vancouver mayors call for end to pot prohibition

VANCOUVER — Four former Vancouver mayors have endorsed a coalition calling for an end to pot prohibition in Canada that they blame for rampant gang violence.

Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan and Philip Owen all signed an open letter to politicians in B.C. Wednesday claiming a change in the law will reduce gang violence.

The former mayors support the position of the Stop the Violence BC coalition, which recently released a survey showing most B.C. residents favoured an end to the current marijuana laws.

The letter says “marijuana prohibition is — without question — a failed policy.”

“It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer, and must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition,” the letter says.

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The letter was sent to MPs, MLAs and city councillors and is designed to drive debate on new marijuana policies.

“It is unconscionable, unacceptable and unreasonable that the criminal element in B.C. is allowed to grow and thrive in B.C. due to inaction on the part of the politicians,” said Sullivan, who served 12 years as a city councillor before being elected mayor of Vancouver in 2005. “Politicians must play a key role in the development of new policies that can really provide safer, stronger communities.”

The coalition said that a recent poll showed B.C. residents don’t have faith that politicians can design policies that effectively reduce criminal, health and social harms stemming from the illegal marijuana trade.

The Angus Reid poll showed that just 32 per cent of British Columbians trust municipal politicians to develop effective marijuana policy. Trust in federal and provincial politicians is even lower – at 28 per cent (federal) and 27 per cent (provincial).

Meanwhile, far more British Columbians say they distrust municipal (62 per cent), provincial (69 per cent), or federal (68 per cent) politicians to design policies to effectively reduce harms stemming from the illegal marijuana trade.

Campbell, who is now a senator, challenged politicians to “prove the public wrong.”

“Politicians have tremendous access to information, expertise and the levers of power, and must use all of the tools at their disposal to fight gang violence by implementing rational marijuana policies,” Campbell said.

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The Angus Reid poll was commissioned by the anti-violence coalition, made up of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts.

The coalition is promising to keep the pressure on with continued polling and reports.

“These poll results reinforce the fact that British Columbians are way ahead of those they have elected in recognizing the destructive outcomes from marijuana prohibition,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a coalition member and Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

“It’s time politicians of all stripes consider the gang violence and criminal activity resulting from marijuana prohibition, and enact policies that reflect the desire of British Columbians for change.”