A panel of medical and legal experts — including former B.C. attorney-general Geoff Plant — will try to convince the Union of B.C. Municipalities to support the decriminalization of marijuana and its regulated sale.

The panel is holding a debate in Victoria on Monday in advance of the UBCM’s annual convention.

Delegates are later expected to vote on a resolution that calls on governments to “decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.”

“We’re hoping this issue gains more traction with provincial politicians and contributes to discussions about health and safety issues that are a direct consequence of cannabis prohibition,” Dr. Evan Wood, a professor of medicine at the University of B.C. and the director of the Urban Health Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said Friday.

Wood is a member of Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of public health experts, academics, lawyers and law-enforcement officials dedicated to implementing marijuana policies that improve public health.

The group supports the distribution of marijuana through monitored outlets, with age and hour-of-sale restrictions, as well as limits on potency and the number of outlets.

“No one is advocating for unrestrained marijuana legislation, but we are talking about a framework of strict controls that has the potential to wage economic war on organized crime, to increase [government] revenues and reduce rates of marijuana use in the province,” Wood said.

He added that he hoped the resolution, if approved, would gain traction at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and with the federal government.

“Even Stephen Harper has a sincere interest in improving public safety and addressing organized-crime concerns,” he said.

“I think no one has brought to his attention that the laws and policing of cannabis are actually a [factor in increasing] gang violence and organized crime.”

The debate will feature Wood, Plant, Const. David Bratzer of the Victoria Police Department, Dr. Darryl Plecas, Dave Williams of the RCMP’s drug enforcement branch and Cmdr. Pat Slack of Washington state’s Snohomish County drug task force.

Bratzer — speaking while off duty and with views that do not reflect that of his employer — said that continuing to police low-level marijuana crimes was a waste of policing dollars.

“Municipal politicians in B.C. are very concerned about the rising police costs, and cannabis enforcement is expensive,” he said Friday.

“Millions of dollars are spent every year on marijuana enforcement to little effect. It’s money down the rathole.”

Bratzer pointed to a 2010 Ministry of Public Safety report showing that 15,638 people had been charged with cannabis possession that year, another 1,285 with cannabis trafficking and 2,105 with production.
Cannabis offences accounted for a full 70 per cent of all drug offences that year.

The B.C. vote comes as several American states — Colorado, Washington and Oregon — are also considering legalizing the drug, with a vote on their ballots in the November elections. Medical marijuana exemptions are already in effect in 17 states.

And it comes as B.C. marijuana advocate Dana Larsen plans to challenge the Police Act with an Elections Canada-approved petition initiative that would prohibit the use of provincial police resources to enforce laws on possession and use of marijuana.

The marijuana vote is just one of the key resolutions up for debate by the 1,500 delegates at the 109th annual UBCM convention, which runs Monday to Friday in Victoria.

: Source