Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Jennifer O'Brien
Page: A1


Half of Canadian voters believe people in jail for marijuana
possession should be released and those with criminal records for pot
possession pardoned, new polling shared with The Free Press suggests.

That percentage rises among the young, the low-income, the highly
educated, and, not surprisingly, the 47 per cent of survey respondents
who've taken a few tokes themselves, the Forum Research survey found.

The findings come as the clock ticks down on the Trudeau government's
tricky election campaign vow to legalize marijuana, with legislation
expected next spring.

Health Minister Jane Philpott has said the law will keep pot "out of
the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals," but
the Liberals have stopped short of saying they'd wipe out the criminal
records of Canadians already convicted of marijuana possession, as NDP
Leader Thomas Mulcair has urged.

Canadians with records for pot possession, especially the young, can
pay dearly, including being turned away at the United States border
and being ineligible for some jobs.

But while "on the surface" it might seem like it makes sense to erase
convictions for an act that, if the government delivers what it has
promised, will no longer be a crime, the issue is much more
complicated than that, a London criminologist says.

Paul Whitehead of Western University said many people left with
criminal raps for pot possession enter the justice system charged with
worse, but end up with lighter convictions.

"When you look at the convictions, it looks like you have a whole lot
of people with jail sentences for simple possession," he said. "But a
lot of marijuana possession convictions are people who were carrying
enough to be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking,
but pleaded guilty to the lesser offences. That's a good reason not to
issue pardons," he said.

Already, anticipating the federal government's liberalization of
marijuana laws, some cities have seen an explosion of pot shops and
some observers have wondered how the government will disentangle
Canada from international treaties on illegal drugs in which marijuana

Pardons are more likely to be issued on an individual basis to people
who apply for them and can prove they've met certain criteria - for
example, that they've been law-abiding citizens for a number of years.

Officially called "record suspensions," pardons seal a criminal record
to allow offenders who have lived crime-free to reintegrate, get
better jobs and travel abroad.

Forum Research asked a random sampling of more than 1,400 Canadians
whether they agreed with pardoning previous convictions and
immediately ending sentences for those found guilty of marijuana possession.

Forty-nine per cent agreed, 35 per cent disagreed and the rest said
they didn't know.

"Remember, all this is occurring within a culture and a time frame
where the move is toward legalization, so on the surface it would make
sense to cancel out those previous convictions, but I don't think they
should," Whitehead said of the Liberals.

In April, as Philpott outlined the government's marijuana legalization
plan at the United Nations, Mulcair added his voice to those calling
for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remove criminal records for the
thousands of people living with the consequences of pot possession

Trudeau hasn't made any promises on record suspensions, but has struck
a task force to examine the issues around legalization.

"Lots of people who sell marijuana sell other kind of drugs as well.
If the objective remains one of keeping it out of hands of children
and adolescents, you don't hurry to cancel out pardons for people who
were arrested for possession for the purpose of trafficking," said
Whitehead, who also dismissed the government's theory that legalizing
weed will make it easier to regulate and keep from children.

"You can't normalize it for normal, healthy adults without increasing
the accessibility and availability for children and adolescents," he

But London Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos said children are the very
reason pot must be made legal.

"We need legislation that's going to enforce strict regulation and
restricted access in order to ensure that we keep marijuana out of the
hands of young people," said the London North Centre MP.

"In Canada, we have one of the highest rates of youth marijuana use in
the developed world. That's areal concern for families," he said.

A 2009 study by the World Health Organization found 23 per cent of
Canadian teens used marijuana.

"We need strict regulation that restricts access," said Fragiskatos.
"We also have to take control of the production and distribution of
marijuana out of the hands of organized crime groups."

Both Fragiskatos and London West Liberal MP Kate Young said they look
forward to the recommendations from the nine-member,
federal-provincial task force the government has struck to examine pot

Headed by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, the
panel also includes experts in law enforcement and public health.

"It's not as if we are ignoring the issue of pardons, but that is
something for the task force to look at," Fragiskatos said.

"I'm not an expert when it comes to marijuana legislation and the
legal regimes around it. I want to allow the task force to examine
issues around legalization including the issues of pardons.

"I would hope very much that the task force assesses pardons."
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