A petition to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana drew police attention Saturday at the Cranberry Festival in Fort Langley.
After organizer Randy Caine set up a table outside the heritage community hall at 9167 Glover Road, he said RCMP auxiliary officers wanted him to shut it down.
A frowning Caine could be seen walking away from the table with a police officer, then returning with a smile to announce the matter had been resolved to his satisfaction.
Caine said he told the officers that he had a legal right to solicit names for the province-wide Sensible B.C. campaign and would file a complaint if he was forced to withdraw.
“I will lay charges, if that’s what it takes,” Caine said.
“This is about constitutional rights.”
Caine said misunderstandings like the Fort Langley encounter with police are hampering efforts to reach the petition goal of collecting 7,000 signatures in the Langley riding within the 90 days set by law.
After the first 30 days, Caine said slightly more than 1,000 people have signed the petition to force a province-wide vote on a proposal that would change the Police Act to instruct officers not to spend any time, money or resources on cases of simple possession of cannabis.
“We’re quite a ways away [from our goal]” Caine said.
“We would all like to be higher. But it’s about momentum, and I can feel the momentum [building].”
The Langley campaign began by signing people up in the parking lot of the ICBC Driver Services office at Logan Avenue and 203 Street, but Caine said the sign-up tables were relocated because the driving test centre had the “wrong demographic” of parents, kids and driving instructors.
“It’s not a great location [as it turned out]” Caine said.
The sign-up effort has moved to other locations, like the Fort Langley festival, McBurney lane and outside Langley City hall, Caine said.
The provincial campaign is also falling short.
Sensible BC spokesman Dana Larsen said the campaign had 65,000 signatures as of Oct. 9, 15,000 less than their aim of 80,000 by the 30-day mark of the 90-day petition drive.
“We’re a little bit behind the target we set,” Larsen said, adding getting canvassers officially registered has proven more onerous than expected.
So far, Sensible BC has 3,000 canvassers registered, up from 1,600 when they launched.
Larsen said he remains confident the campaign will get the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible voters in every B.C. district by the Dec. 5 deadline.
That would take 300,000 signatures in total, but Larsen said the aim is for 450,000 or 15 per cent in each riding to provide a buffer against signatures being declared invalid.
Under B.C. law, defeat in any single district means the petition campaign fails.
The proposed B.C. law is based on a Seattle initiative, passed 11 years ago, that instructed law enforcement officers in the U.S. state to make marijuana “the lowest policing priority.”
If Sensible B.C. succeeds in forcing a vote, it would only be the second time that such a campaign has succeeded.
The first time the law was successfully used was in August of 2011, when HST opponents forced a vote that got rid of the much-hated tax.
– with files from Jeff Nagel