Marijuana reform campaigners say they’ve been denied billboard advertising space with B.C.’s biggest outdoor ad firm in the key months leading up to their signature drive to force a provincial referendum.
Sensible BC director Dana Larsen said Pattison Outdoor has refused to sell the pot decriminalization campaign billboards in areas such as Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, Delta, Langley and the Tri-Cities.
“Surrey was going to be an important area for us because it’s densely populated with a lot of ridings, so we’re going to need a lot of signatures there,” Larsen said.
“We were looking at a provincial campaign in a lot of different areas.”
The initiative petition campaign is expected to start in mid-September, giving volunteers 90 days to sign up 10 per cent of voters in each riding. If they clear that hurdle, a province-wide referendum would be held in 2014 to decriminalize marijuana possession and implement the Sensible Policing Act blocking police enforcement.
No explanation for the refusal has been given, Larsen said, adding he offered to change the proposed wording or remove the marijuana leaf image.
Sensible BC has one electronic billboard with that design up in West Vancouver with a competing firm.
A representative at Pattison Outdoor could not be reached for comment.
Larsen said Pattison is the largest signage provider in many communities and virtually the only option in some areas.
He said they’ll look to other providers and methods of reaching people.
“This isn’t a make-or-break problem for us,” Larsen said. “It’s a small setback.”
Sensible BC is in the second wave of an automated phone dialing campaign to reach out to every B.C. household in search of volunteers.
More than 2,000 new volunteers signed up in the first round.
They, in turn, are working phone banks and hitting up summer festivals, farmers’ markets and other outdoor events to find more recruits.
“It’s by no means guaranteed,” Larsen said, noting only the Fight HST initiative ever reached the referendum stage. “It’s a very, very challenging campaign.”
Larsen said one obstacle is the stigma of pot reform, despite a high-profile group of supporters that include public health officers and former attorneys-general.
“People are afraid of being judged for supporting our issue,” he said. “People say ‘I really want to support you but I can’t put up a marijuana poster in my workplace’ or ‘I can’t support you in my storefront window.'”
But the campaign that got started on Larsen’s credit cards has also hit lucky breaks.
The biggest was last year’s $25-million lottery win for Terrace pot activist Bob Erb, who has pledged several hundred thousand dollars to match Sensible BC campaign donations.