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Pot petition fails despite Nanaimo success

NANAIMO – Campaign for marijuana decriminalization wound down just as signature numbers spiralled up.
Amanda Orum

The campaign to decriminalize marijuana in B.C. looked like it might end up on a high note, but big numbers of those in favour started turning out too late to force a referendum.

The petition drive got off to a slow start, but days before the close of the 90-day effort to get 400,000 petition signatures to force a referendum on the decriminalization of marijuana, the numbers of people willing to put their names behind the cause started ramping up.

“We’ve been at Country Club Mall for this past few weeks and it’s been really slow, so we decided to switch to Port Place mall on the 29th, so just last Friday, and we gathered 1,400 signatures,” said Amanda Orum, Sensible B.C. campaign organizer for Nanaimo. “Parksville-Qualicum, Nanaimo, Nanaimo-North Cowichan have all hit their 10 per cent threshold.”

The issue proved to be surprisingly divisive as local reaction swung wildly between those for or against.

Orum said at Country Club Centre, which allowed Sensible B.C. to set up a campaign table in the mall, campaigners were at times met with scorn, hollered at and spat on.

“We got more ridicule at Country Club mall,” Orum said. “My husband got threatened to get gang-beaten by a bunch of 40-year-old guys. We had two retired RCMP officers come and scream at us and somebody tried to light our table on fire and we got spat on a few times. I’m really kind of happy the campaign’s almost done. Nobody really likes body fluids projected onto you.”

The campaign table was moved to Port Place Centre and a much more receptive population was found.

“In Port Place mall we actually got hugs,” Orum said. “I didn’t realize just how busy that mall really was. Just yesterday (Tuesday) we got over 800 signatures.”

The two shopping centre locations combined tallied up 2,350 signatures as of Wednesday and more people signed through the campaign’s final days. Canvassers also went door-to-door gathering more signatures to create a cushion against signatures that might be invalidated by Elections B.C.

The rising tide of signatures was mirrored across most of the province, but Dana Larsen, leader of the Sensible B.C. petition, estimated Friday the number of signatures from across B.C. would top out at 200,000 – substantially short of the 300,000 needed to force a referendum and just half of Sensible B.C.’s target of 400,000.

The petition cutoff date was Thursday and all petition forms had to be submitted the Elections B.C. office in Victoria by Sunday morning.

“No, we’re not going to make it this time,” Larsen said. “If we had been getting signatures at the rate, at the beginning of the campaign, as we got them at the end of the campaign we would have made it. We definitely picked up a lot of momentum over those three months.”

Larsen said canvassers who got off to a slow start gained experience as the campaign progressed.

Sensible B.C. will take time to study the lessons gained from the experience, reorganize and refinance before launching another campaign, possibly in mid 2015, Larsen said.

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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