After the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention vote to support decriminalizing marijuana, Merritt Mayor Susan Roline and the majority of councillors said they back the idea.

Roline returned to Merritt last week after the four-day convention in Victoria from Sept. 24 to 28, where the union voted in favour of a resolution to decriminalize pot.

“I think we’re spending far too much money in our province on people with simple possession, people who are growing for their own use,” she said.

“Most people who understand marijuana and how it effects your body know that it doesn’t lead to harder drugs on its own. There are a lot of other things that come into play.”

While the UBCM doesn’t have authority to enact rules regarding pot control, it is a major lobby group that can encourage the government to act.

“Get it so that it is controlled by the government, much like alcohol is,” Roline added.

“Once its production is controlled, you will get a better quality and you’re not getting things mixed into it, such as what the case is now.”

Three of the five Merritt councillors who attended the UBCM voted in favour of the resolution.

Coun. Alastair Murdoch said his decision to support decriminalization was easy.

“I’ve been opposed to marijuana criminalization for I don’t know how long,” he said. “I told [ex-premier Gordon Campbell] to his face one time that it’s a war they could never win, so why are they throwing their money at it. I don’t think he was overly impressed.

“We are wasting money and destroying lives with the approach we have now.”

But Coun. Mike Goetz voted against the motion, saying more research needs to be completed before decriminalizing.

“It doesn’t have the teeth or the wherewithal that I think it should have,” he said.

“The idea that it would take gangs out of circulation, I think is a misnomer. The gangs will find other things to be involved with.”

Coun. Harry Kroeker, who attended the UBCM but was at another meeting during the vote, said he would have supported the resolution.

“I feel like if you were caught with just a little bit, it could ruin your life,” he said. “That’s not the way to go.”

Coun. Kurt Christopherson, who was sworn in as the newest member of council on Tuesday due to the resignation of Norm Brigden, didn’t attend the UBCM.

He said he would need to hear the debate before making a decision.

“One of the arguments is that it will be good to get it out of the hands of criminals,” he said. “But unlike alcohol, I don’t think there’s a way of testing it to make sure someone isn’t impaired.”

Coun. Dave Baker said he attended a three-hour marijuana decriminalization debate before voting “yes.”

Coun. Clara Norgaard voted against the resolution.

Other Issues

The UBCM wasn’t entirely focused on the pot debate. Merritt’s mayor and councillors put forward two ideas – one was to encourage government to create a permanent cold-weather shelter program.

“This provides people the opportunity to stay overnight when it is too cold outside,” Roline explained.

The B.C. government funded the shelter program for two years in Merritt before the money was pulled last year because it was determined that the shelter wasn’t used enough.

“They were going to have it on a case-by-case basis and the RCMP looked after that,” she said. “If they found someone who was outside and cold, they would take them to a local motel or that person could go to the police station and then be taken to a local motel.”

But she said the program wasn’t working and so the City of Merritt put $2,500 aside for social programs, which was eventually dedicated to a shelter.

With those funds and other money that the Community Policing Office raised, the City was able to open a shelter last year.

“The amount of people that used that shelter was huge, so we feel there is a need for that type of shelter as long as it’s in the right place and open during the right hours,” Roline said.

The other idea presented by Merritt’s council called to find new revenue streams for municipalities.

“We asked for a portion of the sales tax,” Roline said. “This would be a more stable source of known funding.”

The funding could be dedicated to projects such as the winter shelter.

Each of the ideas went through at the UBCM without being pulled, which means they will be considered by the B.C. government.