ROUSING THE RABBLE: More cannabis dialogue needed

Don’t confuse us with the facts; our minds are already made up. That is the message five Grand Forks councillors last city council meeting.

Don’t confuse us with the facts; our minds are already made up.

That is the message that five Grand Forks city councillors gave us when they voted not to support the Stop the Violence BC (STVBC) program on Aug. 20.

STVBC is a coalition of law enforcement and legal experts, academics, health professionals, mayors and former mayors of municipalities in B.C.

“Stop the Violence BC encourages the public, media, politicians, academics and law enforcement to engage in an open dialogue about this pressing public safety issue. Public forums with academic and law enforcement experts continue to be held and prominent British Columbians-including politicians-are regularly asked to acknowledge and/or support the call for policy-makers to adopt a public health approach,” according to information provided to the city by Stop the Violence BC.

“To facilitate an evidence-based discussion among media, policy-makers, and the general public, Stop the Violence BC has already released two reports with the latest in scientific research, crime statistics and poll data,” it said.

British Columbians know that blanket prohibition is a costly failure. Punitive laws such as mandatory minimum sentencing are not the answer. There was no discussion by councillors of two reports published by STVBC: the increase in cannabis-related arrests up from 39,000 in 1990 to 65,000 in 2009, a public health approach, legalization, or public safety.

Alas, the majority of councillors chose to focus on the reasons that a different approach to dealing with the violence that surrounds cannabis would not work.

There is reason to expect otherwise, but there appears to be an appalling lack of understanding of the key issues surrounding cannabis medicinally or otherwise by the five councillors.

Coun. Neil Krog argued against the STVBC program, but provided no alternative approach. Does he have one?  He said that STVBC was a distortion of the real issue. What is the real issue?

Coun. Cher Wyers suggested that because we have mishandled alcohol use in our society, we would not be any more successful in handling cannabis in the manner suggested by STVBC. What is your solution Coun. Wyers?

Coun. Gary Smith said the STVBC campaign is flawed but did not elaborate. What are its major flaws? If STVBC is ill conceived, what would you suggest to replace it?

In voting as they did, are these councillors hoping that the issue will go away? They know that it won’t and they should be taking advantage of an opportunity to explore the alternatives with some vigour. A morning session at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Victoria is being billed as a session “to share information and perspectives on the merits of decriminalization.”

Will the Grand Forks councillors who do not support the STVBC program participate in the discussions and become better informed or will they avoid the session and remain close-minded?

The discussion of cannabis, its distribution and its use in our society must be addressed. The dilemma facing everyone is how to address it.

STVBC suggests legalization, strict regulation and taxation in contrast to the status quo with stiffer penalties. Is there a better approach? The discussion on the issues related to cannabis will continue in Boundary Country and as time passes, it will be a more informed one. Politicians at all levels should be leading that discussion.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette