Sensible B.C.'s budding influence
News / April 4, 2015
Cannabis advocacy group shifts focus federally for 2015 election.
The meeting is held in a housing co-op in East Vancouver on a sunny mid-February afternoon. People of all types crowd into the makeshift meeting room where, for a few of the latecomers, it’s standing room only. A humble beginning to a campaign with big ambitions.
The room is packed with people young and old, left-wing and right-leaning, students and business owners, lifelong activists and people who have never been to a protest before. A clipboard is passed around for attendees to pledge support and to volunteer their time to Sensible B.C.’s next big campaign. It’s the first of many volunteer orientations to be held by the group as Sensible BC gears up to keep cannabis prohibition on the minds of British Columbians in 2015 as they head to the polls.
The first person to speak at the meeting is, of course, Dana Larsen, who founded the organization in 2012 with a campaign to force a referendum in BC to decriminalize cannabis provincially.
“Our goal is going to be to change the government,” said Larsen to attendees. “To help get rid of the Conservatives because the Conservatives have made themselves the party against cannabis.”
The 2012 provincial campaign fell short of the signatures from 10 per cent of B.C. registered voters needed to force a referendum. The final result was 202,085 signatures over 90 days, high enough to force a referendum in most provinces, but not B.C. Sensible B.C. organisers are hoping to use the support gained, as well as lessons learned from that campaign to influence the upcoming election.
Also at the meeting was Nick Whitehead, director of organizers for Sensible B.C. and a member since they first announced the referendum campaign in the fall of 2012. “When you build an organization that large, that quickly, you learn an immense amount,” says Whitehead. “I think [one of] the biggest things is just really having very in-depth skill development training as early on as possible. Getting your core organizers trained up and making sure they know what their role is, what the systems and processes you have in place are.”
“What really came out of that campaign was an organized movement, and people who want to see more happen,” says Larson
Sensible B.C. is continuing to seek out volunteers to canvass, fundraise, run events and more. Membership grew fast as the organization was in the spotlight in 2012, peaking at approximately 2,000 to 3,000 volunteers and 4,500 registered canvassers. In the years since then, numbers have declined somewhat, though with a 2015 election on the horizon, numbers are on their way back up.
“Finding [volunteers] can be difficult, but it’s one of those things where people believe in this issue. It’s 2015, people are absolutely tired of these laws.”
Justin Trudeau announced the Liberal party’s support for legalisation over a year ago and Tom Mulcair’s NDP favors decriminalisation with the possibility of legislation pending further study. Sensible B.C.’s strategy is not to simply throw their hat into the ring for one party but to identify the strongest non-Conservative candidate in each riding and advocate accordingly. This approach minimizes the risk of splitting the vote in the Tories’ favor and allows Sensible B.C. to focus their resources on ridings that can potentially be swung away from the Conservatives.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the message, as talking points and canvassing strategies will remain much the same as they were in 2012.
“This is a little bit more targeted. We’ve got certain ridings that are higher priority than others. In a ballot initiative with Elections B.C., if you have 84 ridings and miss one, you lose . . . whereas [a federal election] allows us to pick and choose our battles a little more,” explains Whitehead. “Obviously, we want a conversation everywhere but we want to control the conversation in certain areas.”
Organizers for Sensible B.C. have been busy working out their strategies for this election since the provincial referendum failed in 2012. Part of the reason for the early start to the campaigning phase is due to speculation that Stephen Harper may choose to call a snap election in the summer. This possibility is considered unlikely, but Sensible B.C. doesn’t want to be caught unprepared.