Pubdate: Thu, 20 Apr 2017
Source: Metro (Winnipeg, CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Free Daily News Group Inc.
Author: Vicky Mochama
Page: 8


We cannot have a future pot policy that doesn't deal with criminalized

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that the new pot
legislation will not include any special amnesty for past

This is a mistake.

The government's proposed legislation follows a public health approach
of reducing harm and preventing problematic drug use. But the
legislation, which is slated to come into effect by July 1, 2018,
cannot just serve future drug users - and businesses, for that matter.
It should also serve the health and wellbeing of the young, racialized
men and women who are currently in court and in prison on drug charges.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, nearly 60,000
Canadians are arrested for possessing 30 g or less of cannabis every
year [PDF] - that's nearly three per cent of all arrests. And at least
half a million Canadians have a criminal record for possessing that
much pot.

In 2013, nearly half of all drug-related court cases involved
cannabis, and young people between 12 and 24 are more likely to be
arrested for pot than for any other drug.

The Justice Department either doesn't publish or does not track
drug-offences by the race and ethnicity of the offender. Anecdotally,
however, it's clear that the imagined drug offender is a racialized

One only has to hear it from Bill Blair, the Liberal government's
point man on the pot file. In his telling, when youth buy marijuana,
they get it from "a gangster behind some apartment building" or "a
criminal in a stairwell," he told the Toronto Star on separate occasions.

In case the dog-whistle isn't loud enough, Toronto's former top cop is
selling the government's pot plan with a racially-charged message.

There is ample data to show that black and white people, on a
percentage basis, use marijuana at nearly the same rates. Yet black
users are arrested at a vastly higher rate. (Much of this data is
American. Yet again we find that data on race is patchy at best in

Evidence of this racial arrest gap can be found in our prison
populations. From 2005 to 2015, the Black inmate population grew by 69
per cent. This increase dovetails with the previous Conservative
administration's tough-on-crime legislation that also led to an
increase in the imprisonment of women and Indigenous people.

But if compassionate pardons are not part of the new legislation,
thousands of Canadians - especially young racialized men and women -
already languishing in the criminal justice system will be left
behind. A majority of male prisoners struggle with addiction and
substance abuse issues.

For the government, a clean slate starts next Canada Day. Many
Canadians need that clean slate now.
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