Cannabis Amnesty Advocates Call for Decarceration to Protect Vulnerable Populations from Covid-19




“The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is adding its voice to the growing number of rights groups calling for the immediate release of as many inmates in custody as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”


[Toronto, Ontario] – April 20, 2020: 420 celebrations this year will be overshadowed by national and international efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. While public events have been cancelled this year, April 20 continues to be a day of celebration and reflection for cannabis patients, consumers and advocates.

Today, we remember that historically, cannabis prohibition laws were unequally enforced in Canada. Despite similar rates of use across racial groups, those from minority and Indigenous communities as well as vulnerable neighbourhoods were disproportionately arrested for simple cannabis possession and were over-represented in cannabis prosecutions and convictions. Cannabis Amnesty has been campaigning to address this historical injustice and to improve the lives of the hundreds and thousands of Canadians who carry the burden of criminal records relating to simple cannabis possession offences.  

Our advocacy, however, does not take place in a vacuum. We are acutely aware that the unfair and unequal enforcement of cannabis laws are symptomatic of broader issues in our criminal justice system. Members of marginalized and vulnerable communities—particularly Indigenous and Black communities— are overrepresented not just in arrests and convictions for cannabis-related offences; they are also overrepresented in our prisons and jails.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on the unique vulnerability faced by those in our prisons and jails. People in custody are likely to be more vulnerable to infection with COVID-19 because of close confinement, overcrowding, poor hygiene, and sub-standard health care. Currently, the only effective means of combatting the impact of COVID-19 is through social distancing, but the degree of social distancing required to reduce COVID-19 transmission in correctional facilities is not possible with the number of people presently held in these facilities. This creates incredibly dangerous conditions for individuals and community health. Tragically, one federal inmate has already died from COVID-19 related complications in federal custody in British Columbia and the number of infections is growing. We are concerned that outbreaks in tight spaces like detention centres and correctional facilities will happen quickly, be near impossible to control and will result in devastating fatalities. Those in Canadian prisons and jails should not be condemned to sit on death row. This is simply inhumane.  

As a result, the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is adding its voice to the growing number of rights groups calling for the immediate release of as many inmates in custody as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among other options, measures should be taken to allow for the early release of those convicted of cannabis and non-violent drug offences. Decarceration is the only way to protect prisoners and staff of correctional institutions from COVID-19.



About Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty

The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is a non-partisan, not-for-profit group composed of lawyers, activists, and entrepreneurs brought together by the belief that the harms caused by decades of marijuana prohibition must be made right. We started an online petition platform and successfully lobbied the federal government to pass legislation to provide expedited pardons to those convicted of cannabis possession offences. We have developed education and advocacy resources and work in partnership with industry to help Canadians across the country learn more about the harms caused by cannabis criminalization and what we can do to create a more fair and just national framework for cannabis legalization.


Further Information

Annamaria Enenajor, Cannabis Amnesty Director [email protected],
416 964 9664

Tyler James, Community Outreach [email protected],

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