The federal government has just legalized cannabis. This 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. The war on cannabis has hit racialized communities especially hard. 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 Cannabis Act, past convictions may 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.
No Canadian should be burdened with a criminal record for a minor, non-harmful act that will no longer be a crime. A poll conducted in May 2017 by Nanos Research and the Globe and Mail indicated that 62% of Canadians either support or somewhat support pardons for people with criminal records for marijuana possession.
Canada has an opportunity to become a world leader by implementing a cannabis policy driven by compassion and evidence, not stigma and fear. Amnesty 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?
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