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Pro-pot petition 'uphill battle' in Abbotsford
A provincial campaign is underway to gather 400,000 signatures in support of decriminalizing simple cases of marijuana possession.
But canvassers are slow to get started in the critical Abbotsford and Mission ridings.
Sensible B.C., which launched the petition drive, wants a referendum on legislation the group created. Called the Sensible Policing Act, it would prevent police from searching or arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Sensible B.C. needs 10 per cent of registered voters in every provincial riding to sign the petition between Sept. 9 and Dec. 5, 2013, in order for the Act to qualify for referendum in Sept. 2014.
The Abbotsford ridings risk derailing the whole endeavour. The city is now a concern for Sensible B.C. head office, according to Abbotsford-West and Abbotsford-South campaign organizer Meghann Coughlan.
"I know what we're up against in Abbotsford and I know it's not going to be easy," said Coughlan, who ran for Abbotsford mayor in 2011 and knows the community well.
"It's a conservative town, and people vote conservative…We know that there is a lot of support in Abbotsford, but I think it would be really unwise to underestimate what we're up against."
It's a tight timeframe, and there are just 50 canvassers for all of Abbotsford-South, Abbotsford-West, and Abbotsford-Mission. The campaign must gather 13,000 signatures in the area for the Sensible Policing Act to qualify for referendum. That's at least 260 signatures per canvasser. The three ridings are hoping to gather about 15,000 signatures, providing a cushion for invalid signatures such as those from unregistered voters.
In Mission-Maple Ridge, 32 canvassers have signed on, most of them working in the Maple Ridge area.
Canvassers have barely begun collecting signatures. Volunteers are still sorting out printing petition forms, identifying canvassing locations, and recruiting more volunteers.
Some local organizers have blamed the delay on a late send-out of canvasser registration cards by Elections B.C. Others had problems printing materials.
"We need as much help as we can get, especially in Abbotsford," admitted Coughlan.
Coughlan acknowledges she does not smoke marijuana, or drink alcohol. She has signed on to the cause because of a financial concern.
"I think [prosecuting people for simple cases of possession] is a huge waste of taxpayer money…I don't think the government should be telling people what they can and cannot do recreationally."
B.C. spends $10 million annually to arrest and convict marijuana users, according to Sensible B.C.
Despite the anticipated tough reception in Abbotsford, Coughlan is "not hopeless" and has received calls of support from unexpected sources, such as some senior citizens. Coughlan is also cautiously optimistic that the first ever Fraser Valley pride parade in May 2013 signaled a shift in Abbotsford's traditionally conservative firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/alinakonevski