They knew drug war was wrong

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VANCOUVER -- Oh, band of brothers! Four former B.C. attorneys general -- Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant -- have platooned together to fight the war against the war on drugs.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2012 (3825 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVER — Oh, band of brothers! Four former B.C. attorneys general — Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant — have platooned together to fight the war against the war on drugs.

They want to see the legalization and state control of marijuana.

They even released to the public a letter saying so, as if to stiffen their message with the starch of officialdom.

They then mailed that letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and NDP Opposition leader Adrian Dix with the expectation that a letter from four former AGs is not so easily tossed in the circular file, as yours or mine would be.

“As former B.C. Attorneys General,” their letter began, “we are fully aware that British Columbia lost its war against the marijuana industry many years ago. The case demonstrating the failure and harms of marijuana prohibition is airtight. The evidence? Massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety, and significant — and escalating — costs to taxpayers.”

Well, no kidding.

Yet the critical phrase in that passage is “many years ago.” There is an admission that this wasn’t a light that just recently went off in their heads.

It also means, I’d suggest, that if they weren’t already “fully aware” of the problem while in office as the province’s top cops, they were either (a) pitifully briefed, which is doubtful, or (b) profoundly thick, which none of them is.

This is a war that has encompassed all four of their terms. Who better to be fully aware of the utter futility of that war than an AG?

So where were their voices when the weight of their office might have had real, and changing, impact?

Let’s look at the record.

In 2002, when Plant was AG, he stated flatly that the decriminalization of marijuana was not a provincial concern.

“This is a matter for the federal government. It is not a matter on which the government of British Columbia has a position and not a matter on which I have an opinion.”

This is an impeccable legal position; it just isn’t a brave or frank one. It observes the niceties of governance — far be it from him to trespass on federal property. But it isn’t leadership, it’s deflection.

Plant softened that stance a couple of months later by saying that, while reiterating he still had no official stance on decriminalization, he questioned spending police resources going after petty possession when large grow-ops were funding organized crime.

This, I guess, was progress. At least he entertained enough private doubts to offer a public question. But as for the link between decriminalization and the effect it might have on the proliferation of large grow-ups and the violence and criminality they gave rise to, he did not say.

As for Bowbrick, a lawyer like Plant, he was AG for only a year, from 2000-01. The Vancouver Sun’s research staff could find no statement of his on decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. My apologies to him if we somehow missed it.

Dosanjh’s record on the issue was, like Plant’s, mixed.

He was AG from 1995-2000. During his term, he said he was not averse to having a debate on the issue. And in 1997, he was quoted in the Sun as saying: “If we reach a national consensus to exclude marijuana from tougher sentences, so be it. But if it’s currently illegal and you have someone growing or smuggling large quantities, I, as attorney general, can’t ignore that violation of the law.”

And he wasn’t about to have anything to do with changing the law. In this, Dosanjh parted ways with his federal NDP counterparts at the time, who were in favour of decriminalization (as is the provincial NDP now). In 1996, he was quoted as saying: “I don’t believe one can conclude we ought to decriminalize marijuana. I don’t think, as the attorney general, I can argue for the decriminalization of marijuana.”

Once he went to Ottawa as an MP, however, he fell in line with the federal NDP policy with which he had previously disagreed. He voted in favour of a bill that would allow small amounts of marijuana to be grown for personal use — which was, of course, defeated in the House. Welcome to opposition politics and oblivion.

Gabelmann was the first among the quartet to grapple with the issue. Responding to a report by B.C. chief coroner Vince Cain that concluded the war on drugs was an “expensive failure” — a report commissioned by his department — Gabelmann promised to raise the matter of decriminalization with his federal counterpart.

So there’s that.

Which brings us to today and right back to where we started.

When asked about the AGs’ letter, Clark fell back on the position that the issue was a federal one and that she would leave it up to the feds. The premier also refused to answer any questions about her own personal drug use, as if any admission somehow might hurt her. (It’s my inclination to mistrust anyone who hasn’t tried a drug of some sort.)

“People,” Dosanjh told me Wednesday, “have the right to change their minds, don’t they?”

Pete McMartin writes for

the Vancouver Sun.

— Postmedia News

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