The legalization of cannabis is a turning point for Canada. Legalization sends a positive message to Canadians and the rest of the world that it’s time to move away from the ineffective and harmful war on drugs.
In spite of this leap forward, many Canadians are left behind. Decades of cannabis prohibition have saddled hundreds of thousands of Canadians with criminal convictions for non-violent, minor cannabis offences. Decades of unfair and unequal enforcement of cannabis laws has meant that marginalized and racialized Canadians have been disproportionately burdened by cannabis convictions. For example, Black Torontonians are three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana than White Torontonians despite equal rates of use.
These convictions prevent people from travelling to the United States, volunteering, and finding meaningful employment. Under the proposed Cannabis Act, past convictions will also prevent many Canadians from participating in the country’s growing legal cannabis economy. In short, many people’s lives will continue to be torn apart because of these minor offences.
With the legalization of cannabis around the corner, Canada has an opportunity to become a world leader, by implementing a cannabis policy driven by compassion, not fear. Blanket pardons for Canadians with convictions for simple possession of cannabis is an essential part of any fair and equitable cannabis legalization model. What are we waiting for?