[Toronto, Ontario] - October 17, 2018: Today the Cannabis Act came into force accomplishing what many believed could not be achieved. Legalization sends a positive message to Canadians and to the rest of the world that it’s time to move away from the ineffective and harmful war on drugs and adopt a pragmatic approach that focuses on harm reduction rather than relying on antiquated stereotypes about cannabis consumers. This monumental shift must be applauded.

In spite of today’s announcement, many Canadians will remain left behind. Decades of cannabis prohibition have saddled hundreds of thousands of Canadians with criminal convictions for minor cannabis offences. Moreover, a history of unfair and unequal enforcement of cannabis laws have disproportionately burdened marginalized and racialized Canadians with cannabis convictions. Despite similar rates of use across racial groups, racialized Canadians are disproportionately arrested for simple cannabis possession.

This morning, the federal government announced that it intends to give pardons to Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana. The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty enthusiastically welcomes this news and we look forward to reviewing any proposed cannabis amnesty legislation that will eventually be tabled. Our main concern will be to ensure that any proposed regime meets the needs of the 500,000 Canadians who have their lives impacted by a criminal record for simple non-violent cannabis possession convictions.

We look forward to working with the government to accomplish cannabis amnesty in a timely manner. A fair and effective cannabis amnesty process must contain four central features: the application must be free, its effects must be immediate, the process must be simple, and it must involve the expungement or permanent deletion of records. Annamaria Enenajor, Director of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, stated, “Record suspensions or pardons are insufficient. They do not erase a convicted offence; they merely set it aside. Without expungement, individuals convicted of possession remain vulnerable to having their convictions reinstated. The government’s openness to consider cannabis amnesty gives us hope and our discussions to date have been fruitful, but the whole point of amnesty is to permanently eliminate, rather than merely suspend, the harms that stem from a previous cannabis conviction. Only expungement accomplishes this.”

The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty recognizes that records in relation to cannabis offences are not all kept systematically and in the same place, but Ms. Enenajor adds, “Canadians should not be deprived of peace of mind because of our government’s poor record-keeping practices.”

Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is an Open Democracy Project Civic Campaign Accelerator participant. Website by DemocracyKit, created with NationBuilder.