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Petition to decriminalize pot comes up short

Petition to decriminalize pot comes up shortSensible BC director Dana Larsen delivers boxes of 202,037 signature sheets from his Cannabus to Elections BC in Victoria, B.C. Monday December 9, 2013. Though short 100,000 signatures he hopes it will help force a referendum on marijuana decriminalization. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - Marijuana activist Dana Larsen says while a petition campaign to decriminalize pot fell short, it sparked a buzz across British Columbia and he's planning to fire up a second drive soon.

Larsen said Monday his bid to use B.C.'s direct democracy laws to either prompt a vote in the provincial legislature or set off a non-binding referendum needed about 100,000 more signatures. But he promised to launch a second petition before the next federal election in 2015.

Larsen's Sensible BC tour group arrived at Elections BC in its so-called "Cannabus," with "Light My Fire" by The Doors blaring in the background.

"This represents a lot of hard work from a lot of people, working many, many hours. This is over 200,000 signatures here, many tens-of-thousands of hours of volunteer labour from canvassers all across the province working on this important campaign."

The campaign proposed a law that would prevent police from enforcing simple marijuana possession laws.

"We do not have enough to trigger a referendum, but I think this is a remarkable achievement," Larson told a small group of supporters and the media.

Members of the group then carted eight file boxes of gathered signatures into the Elections BC office.

Under the Recall and Initiative Act, the signatures of at least 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province's 85 electoral districts are required to prompt a vote in the legislature or a non-binding referendum. Larsen needed to collect slightly more than 300,000 signatures by Monday's deadline.

"I feel pretty good overall with what we've accomplished here," said Larsen. "Getting 210,000 signatures with an army of volunteers in 90 days is quite an accomplishment. Our referendum system in B.C. is brutally difficult to get on the ballot."

He said his petition would have succeeded in Washington or Oregon where the sign-up period is longer, fewer signatures are required and the disclosure rules about where potential voters live are not as strict.

Several former B.C. politicians have thrown their support behind the decriminalization of marijuana, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been outspoken about his support for legalization, taxation and regulation of pot.

The Liberal government in B.C. has largely avoided marijuana reform, saying drug laws are in the federal government's jurisdiction.

Larson is urging Premier Christy Clark to push the issue, saying those signatures give the government the mandate to act.

"We have the power to decriminalize possession as a province and there's certainly plenty of issues that are federal issues where the B.C. government gets involved and makes its will known. Whether it's coast guard stations, whether it's the Senate ... there are plenty of ways that we can make changes here in British Columbia."

Clark responded that she isn't about to enter the marijuana legalization debate despite Larsen's suggestion the province should get involved.

"No," said Clark. "We have a massive task ahead of us in trying to grow the economy and create economic development and land these LNG (liquefied natural gas) deals. We're not going to create jobs if we lose our focus on that."

B.C.'s Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer officially declared the petition unsuccessful Monday after taking possession of the boxes.

Of the eight applications granted approval by Elections B.C., just one has been successful.

That petition resulted in a referendum that forced the provincial government to reverse the 12 per cent harmonized sales tax.

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