Over 500,000 Canadians May Have Marijuana Offenses Pardoned
Canada is offering to pardon marijuana offenses, but won’t fully expunge records.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed over 500,000 people charged with marijuana possession could have their slates wiped clean. Canada just legalized recreational marijuana across the country on October 17, 2018. Medical marijuana has been legal in the country since 2001. The changing law means thousands of people with criminal records could have their marijuana convictions pardoned.
Canada is allowing people with marijuana convictions to apply for a “record suspension”, but records won’t be fully expunged. A record suspension does not erase the fact that someone committed a crime – what it does is set aside the conviction and keep it separate from other criminal charges. It also means that someone with a record suspension would not show up in a criminal record database search.
With thousands of people arrested and charged with cannabis possession, processing criminal records associated with the charge might take some time. To help people apply for a record suspension, the government is removing the normal processing fee of $631 and removing the 5-10 year waiting period.
There Is No Legislation before Parliament to Assure Pardon for Marijuana Offenses
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, the director of research at Cannabis Amnesty, a not-for-profit applauds the Liberal government for the initiative. He told CBC Canada, “Canada is doing something monumental” by deleting criminal records associated with marijuana possession. “It’s fantastic to hear the government is recognizing the harms that have been done by criminalizing people,” he added.
When people are criminalized for using or possessing marijuana, it casts a shadow on their ability to secure housing, employment, education or do any volunteer work. Marijuana activists argue the burden and stigma of a marijuana conviction is not commensurate with the offense, which is one of the main arguments for legalizing marijuana.
Michael Spratt, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Ottawa, lamented to CBC Canada that there is no legislation before Parliament at the moment to substantiate what the prime minister wants to do and the lack of details is worrisome.
“It’s a bit charitable to call it a plan. There’s no legislation before Parliament and there aren’t many details,” Spratt said in an interview with CBC News.
“A lot of things remain to be seen about how it’s actually going to play out and, given the upcoming election, if it’s going to play out at all.”
People Charged With Marijuana Offenses In Canada May Be Denied Entry Into the U.S.
Recently, the Canadian government offered to expunge records for LGBTQ related crimes that have now been deemed “historically unjust”. Crimes of gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse committed by LGBTQ people will be fully expunged and all criminal records deleted.
Owusu-Bempah told CBC he believes the same treatment should be extended to people criminally charged with cannabis possession. This he said is important because applicable laws on marijuana possession tend to be biased against black people and indigenous populations.
“Expungement is an extraordinary measure intended to be used when the injustice is inherent in the law itself, as was the case with the prohibition of sexual activity between same-sex partners, rather than a matter of how the law is enforced,” a representative for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC.
Spratt supported the viewpoint shared by Owusu-Bempah, telling CBC marijuana charges impact racial minorities, poor folks, the mentally ill and others with prior criminal records more than it affects white Canadians. Based on the marginalization, he said the 10-step process to obtaining a pardon may be onerous for a marginalized individual to fulfill. Spratt said it would be better for the government to just expunge all criminal records for anybody charged or convicted under drug laws.
Incidentally, the U.S. Custom and Border Protection agency said anyone convicted of a crime in Canada would not be allowed entry into the United States regardless of any subsequent pardon. What this means is that anyone pardoned for a crime in Canada would still be regarded as a criminal to the United States and no foreign pardons would be respected. Thus, people charged with marijuana offenses in Canada may be denied entry into the U.S.