VICTORIA -- British Columbia's municipal politicians have waded into the national marijuana debate by voting in favour of decriminalizing pot and studying the benefits of taxing and regulating it.

Mayors and councillors attending the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention were backed Wednesday by the Victoria-area community of Metchosin to support marijuana decriminalization during a stirring debate in the crowded convention hall.

"I tried it when I was younger and I turned out OK," said Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun.

Skakun was representing the majority voice among politicians who said it was time B.C. did something to counter the violent control organized crime has over the marijuana industry, estimated to be worth $7 billion annually.

But former federal fisheries minister Tom Siddon, now a regional district politician from the B.C. Interior, spoke against decriminalization of marijuana, saying that would send the wrong message to young people.

"This is not a remedy," he said.

Siddon said organized criminals would not be deterred from selling pot and resorting to violence to protect their commodity.

Earlier this week, UBCM delegates heard health policy advocates, police officers and former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant call on municipal politicians to lead efforts that could change what they call Canada's outdated pot laws.

Plant and others say decriminalizing marijuana will help fight organized crime gangs who invade communities and stage lethal battles to control B.C.'s lucrative marijuana market.

Plant has said municipal leaders are justified in taking a stand against federal marijuana laws because they govern and live in the communities where drug gangs operate.

But Sgt. Dave Williams, one of B.C.'s top RCMP drug enforcement officers, predicted decriminalization won't stop gangs from attempting to control the pot market.