Ottawa didn’t go far enough with pardons for pot possession

The federal government has dropped the ball once again, on how they’re dealing with the roll out of a new initiative involving cannabis.

It’s hard to believe the government that was forward-thinking enough to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, now refuses to erase the records of Canadians convicted of simple cannabis possession.

Simple possession refers to someone who possessed 30 grams of cannabis or less. Before legalization, an individual convicted of simple possession could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Instead, Bill C-93, which only became law in July, simply makes it easier and much more affordable for those convicted of cannabis possession to obtain a pardon; as individuals can now apply for pardons through the Parole Board of Canada’s Web site.

Yes, it now allows for “no-cost, expedited pardons,” that will eliminate the hefty $631 application fee, and the routine five-to-10-year waiting period – but this is still disappointing to the cannabis community as a whole and the upwards of 500,000 Canadians who have criminal cannabis possession convictions.

Justice Minister David Lametti unveiled the new on-line applications system on August 1, that aims to remove barriers to employment, housing, travel and volunteering opportunities for people who were convicted of simple possession before recreational cannabis use was made legal.

Lametti highlighted the new system will help minorities who have been “disproportionately affected by cannabis laws.”

The new system for pardons is a step in the right direction; it’s just such a small step that it doesn’t address the historical injustices of simple possession. If the government really wanted to help minorities, as they say they do, they would acknowledge the stigma placed onto cannabis and offer expungements.

Here’s the thing, there’s a significant contrast between a pardon and an expungement of records; a difference that’s so drastric it could have a direct impact on someone’s life.

A pardon, for example, doesn’t erase the conviction; it merely sets the conviction aside and keeps any record of it out of the main national police database. However, a pardon doesn’t guarantee entry or visa privileges to another country – as it will not erase information about Canadians already in U.S.-controlled databases, meaning people with criminal records for cannabis possession could still face problems while traveling.

An expungement, on the other hand, is as if the conviction never happened in the first place and would be wiped completely from the books.

According to the drug arrests statistics in Canada for 2017 by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, there were a total of 90,625 drug arrests with 42 per cent (38,498) of all drug arrests for cannabis possession and 72 per cent of all drug arrests for personal possession.

Despite the government anticipating tens of thousands of applications, experts including the director of the National Pardon Centre, indicated they don’t anticipate seeing a large increase in applications, indicating individuals with convictions typically had their possession charges bundled with other charges.

Canada’s NDP believe “Canadians deserve freedom, not forgiveness,” and want to expunge criminal records for cannabis possession.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, explained that expungement is valid only in cases where there is a profound historical injustice that needs to be corrected and that cannabis possession doesn’t apply.

Try telling that to one of the 500,000 who have been convicted of simple cannabis possession in the past, especially Indigenous and Black individuals, who historically have been targeted by law enforcement strictly by the colour of their skin.

Those convictions produce profound negative effects on one’s ability to obtain housing, securing a job, or even entering another country. That seems like it would qualify as historic social injustice – wouldn’t it?

There shouldn’t be any reason as to why the government would shy away from and rationale the use of pardons, rather than expunging their records on simple cannabis possession – point blank period – case closed.