Here’s how Halifax can legalize marijuana

Or at least stop wasting everyone’s time on drug raids

Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you have to vote for Justin Trudeau. In fact, for all practical purposes, we can legalize marijuana possession and use without involving the federal government at all. Our city, we the people in it, can decide whether small business owners are actually worth arresting.

If you missed the news, Halifax Regional Police raided Farm Assists this past Friday, seizing marijuana, some cash and arresting owners Christopher Enns and Sherri Reeve. The two have been charged with drug trafficking, among other charges. Enns told the CBC he plans to fight, and expects to partially reopen his shop on Gottingen Street today.

Busting up a medical marijuana dispensary whose sole existence is helping those suffering from chronic illness is a particularly revolting use of police force. It needn’t have to happen, though. By taking the priority out of drug charges, HRM’s public can do what the federal government won’t and let everyone know we’d like our police spending their time on real crimes.

That’s what Seattle did. Back in 2003 the Emerald City passed Initiative 75, which made marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, directing Seattle police and public prosecutors to make sure that had absolutely nothing better to do before they took to arresting and prosecuting adult personal use of pot.

Getting I-75 passed was largely thanks to a dedicated campaign team, including Dominic Holden. I spoke with the now-associate editor of The Stranger last month over the phone about the seemingly impossible task of de facto marijuana legalization.

“The largest hurdle wasn't raw numbers of support, but a sentiment among those working with us that it couldn't be done,” Holden said. “We needed to bridge the gap between thinking marijuana is fine and thinking legalization is impossible.”

It’ll take a steadfast coalition to produce similar results here in Halifax. Legalization activists will be only a part of that group. Campaign experts will be needed for polling and advertising, lawyers will be needed to draft the actual order and fundraisers will be needed because this will cost a fair chunk of change (the Sensible Seattle Coalition raised over $150,000 to get I-75 passed). Thankfully, we’ll benefit from the aftermath of cities like Seattle passing similar laws.

In the first six months from I-75’s passing, pot prosecutions dropped to 18, down from 70 during the same time in the previous year. The final report into the measure’s results, released in 2008 by city and police, found there was a reduction in marijuana incidents and charges as well as no evidence of adverse effects. The so-called “pot panel” found “no evident increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults,” “no evident increase in crime” and “no adverse impact on public health.”

Those results helped convince the entire state of Washington to pass a law in 2012 legalizing possession and taxing the sale of marijuana. Court filings for low-level pot possession dropped from nearly 8,000 in 2009 to just 120 last year.

Numbers like that, along with the overkill of raids like those on Farm Assists, will ultimately be the key in getting pot practically legalized. There are simply far better ways for police to be spending their time.

“People realize the futility of wasting our law enforcement resources,” says Holden. “We have more pressing financial needs.”

Halifax Police chief Jean-Michel Blais could be for it. Last year, he was more than happy to talk to the CBC about issuing tickets for marijuana use rather than wasting everyone’s time on arrests.

There are plenty of legal barriers to be taken into account in starting this campaign. Seattle’s I-75 alone wouldn’t stop drug trafficking raids on licensed medical marijuana facilities. But part of the beauty of designing a law from scratch is we can make it say what we want.

What the raid on Farm Assists highlights is just how close we already are to an acceptance of marijuana in society. It’s unlikely the arrest of cocaine traffickers would feature the same media stories questioning police and showcasing public support for the charged. When was the last time you talked to anyone who views marijuana use at the same criminal level that police do? It's not a crime; it’s naughty—played out for laughs on television and in public discussions with more openness than some sex acts.

Halifax needs its own I-75, not to piss off police or antagonize Stephen Harper, but to help our city run more efficiently; to get innocent people out of the criminal justice system and best use our police department. We need this directive so entrepreneurs, job creators like Christopher Enns and Sherri Reeve, aren’t treated like dangerous offenders.

The mandate will never come from the top down, at least not in any substantial way. It starts with you, reading this, reaching out to the right people, sharing coffees in a living room and deciding this bullshit's gone on long enough. We can be better, Halifax.

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