Pro-cannabis candidate not deterred by byelection loss

Mary Jean Dunsdon finished sixth in Oct. 14 council race


Reported by Kurtis Gregory

A popular marijuana industry advocate who campaigned to be Vancouver’s next city councillor says she is not deterred from seeking another possible run at city hall despite her sixth-place finish in the Oct. 14 byelection.

Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon, who won 1,737 votes for just under four per cent of the total vote, said she gained experience in her campaign run and will continue to fight for rights of cannabis users in Vancouver.

“Obviously this was our first foray into politics so we learned a lot,” said Dunsdon, while watching the results Saturday night with campaign staff, friends and family at her East First Avenue home. “I’m not 100 per cent sure I want to run again in 2018 but there’s about a 68 per cent possibility.”

Low turnout for the byelection

Saturday’s byelection saw only 11 per cent of eligible voters turn out to vote. The NPA’s Hector Bremner won the race with 13,372 votes for 28 per cent of the vote.

The byelection was called after Geoff Meggs resigned as a councillor to become chief of staff to Premier John Horgan. Voters also cast ballots for nine school trustee candidates to replace a school board that was fired last year by the former Christy Clark government for not balancing a budget.

Watermelons campaign

Dunsdon ran her campaign primarily advocating for reform to the city’s existing medical marijuana dispensary bylaws. She also emphasized the need to ensure that when recreational marijuana is legalized, new regulations have the lowest cost to taxpayers.

“We feel a lot of these regulations are way more harsh than say booze or tobacco or opioids when we know now that cannabis is safer than all three of those things,” Dunsdon said. “We just wanted to make sure that we help steward those regulations in a meaningful manner, because when the government gets it wrong, the taxpayer pays and the government does it again.”

The current bylaws mandate that a dispensary pay $30,000 annually for a business licence and compassion clubs pay $1,000. Pot shop owners have to sign a good neighbour agreement and dispensaries cannot be within 300 feet of a school, community centre, another marijuana related business, neighbourhood house or youth facility that serves vulnerable youth.

Sensible Vancouver’s future

Stephen Phillips, a Langara political science professor, said it’s unlikely a party with such a narrow focus will continue to have a presence when recreational marijuana is legalized by the Trudeau government next July.

“In a way events are kind of stealing their thunder — the senior levels of government, federal government, taking steps in that direction,” Phillips said. “At least for the foreseeable future they will probably retain some kind of a presence to try to shape the agenda because there’s a lot of details that still need to be worked out.”

Sensible BC, the predecessor to the Sensible Vancouver party, formed in 2012 as a political organization dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition in British Columbia. In 2013, the organization gathered some 200,000 signatures in support of a referendum to decriminalize the drug.

Dana Larsen, founder and party president, said the party will likely continue to push for drug reform in Canada, even after marijuana is legalized.

“The legalization we’re getting is not the end of it anymore than the gay rights movement ending when sodomy was no longer a crime — there is still a lot of important things that need to be dealt with,” said Larsen, who joined Dunsdon at her house Saturday night. “Cannabis is just part of a much bigger equation and I will continue pushing for the end of the war on drugs, which is the greatest scourge on our society.”

Despite finishing in sixth place out of nine candidates, Dunsdon said the attention her campaign brought to the issues surrounding the cannabis community in Vancouver was victory enough.

“We were winners long before the election polls came out.”

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