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B.C. Conservative leader takes step toward pot reform

B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins. - Dan Ferguson / Langley Times
B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson / Langley Times

B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins spoke out in support of marijuana decriminalization Tuesday, but won't yet commit his party to change provincial policy on the issue.

During Monday's televised leaders debate, Cummins gave the first sign of supporting pot law reform, saying the idea deserves debate and should be discussed with U.S. officials.

"I don't see making a criminal out of somebody who has a small quantity of marijuana," Cummins told Black Press in a post-debate interview.

"I just don't see that as reasonable. It's in widespread use. And I don't see the people who are using it as criminals. I don't see that they should be prosecuted or persecuted for it."

Cummins, who is running in Langley, said he still has concerns about marijuana reform, including whether minors might gain easier access, how drivers impaired by the drug would be caught and whether users are more prone to abuse other drugs or suffer health problems.

"Government has to have all the facts on the table before you move ahead," he said.

The comments shift the former Conservative MP sharply away from the anti-reform stance of his former federal Tory colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has always ruled out changing Canada's marijuana laws.

The issue is expected to get more attention this fall when the group Sensible BC will try to gather enough signatures across B.C. to trigger a provincial referendum on pot reform.

Its aim is to force through legislation directing police to stop spending money and officers' time enforcing the law against simple cannabis possession.

Asked if he supports that campaign for de facto decriminalization, Cummins said he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It's not a big issue for me," Cummins said. "I understand fully where these people are coming from and I share many of their concerns. I'd be quite happy to stand back and see where the public debate is going on it."

He said he doubts police spend much time on the "harassment of recreational drug users" but if that happens, there are "a lot better ways their resources could be deployed."

Cummins also cautioned against viewing marijuana as a possible cash cow for government.

"If government thinks it can sell this stuff through a storefront and put a tax on it and make money on it, I think that they're dreaming," he said. "The underworld, the gangs are still going to be able to put product on the market cheaper than the government's going to be able to sell it."

Sensible BC director Dana Larsen welcomed Cummins' statement and said it's not that surprising because recent polling shows a majority of Conservative-leaning voters in B.C. back decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.

"It really shows what broad support this has," Larsen said. "He's in line with the majority of Conservatives in B.C. Voters from every political party in B.C. still want to see these laws changed."

NDP leader Adrian Dix said during Monday's debate he favours decriminalization of marijuana but called it an issue for the next federal election.

Liberal leader Christy Clark steered clear of the issue Monday, saying it's not a priority for her.

Green Party leader Jane Sterk strongly backs legalization of marijuana and other controlled substances, with the government in charge of sale and distribution.

The issue has gained a higher profile in B.C. with a parade of high-profile policy leaders endorsing reform through the Stop the Violence coalition.

Last fall's vote of Washington State voters to legalize and tax small amounts of marijuana at the state level also gave reformers here more optimism.

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