Pubdate: Sat, 06 May 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tyler Dawson
Page: D6


It appears the prime minister is blowing smoke out of both sides of
his mouth.

Justin Trudeau is insisting that Canada's police officers continue
enforcing marijuana laws until the drug is legalized, even while
musing recently to Vice Media that perhaps there should be pardons for
those convicted of marijuana possession.

That stance sends mixed signals. It's simply too early for the
discussion. Trudeau should have held off on such speculation until
after marijuana becomes legal.

Instead, intentionally or not, the prime minister has set the
government down a complicated path - much as he did with promises of
legalization in the first place.

If the government is going to offer pardons, how, wonders University
of Ottawa law Prof. Carissima Mathen, will they do it? Will people
need to apply, or will the government seek out those entitled to
"record suspensions" (as they're technically called in Canada)? Will
the pardons be done without review, or will government or parole
boards "retain the discretion to refuse if the person doesn't show
sufficient signs of rehabilitation"?

How big a deal would a possession pardon even be? Michael Ashby, the
director of the National Pardon Centre, a non-profit that helps people
get pardons, says he's only seen standalone pot-possession convictions
a handful of times.

"The number of people with just a simple possession charge is next to
nil," Ashby says. Possession convictions usually go alongside much
more serious charges, and no one is talking about pardons for those.
So pot pardons aren't a panacea for the problems - travel, employment
- - caused by a criminal record. For the police, it's more complicated
still. Liberal ministers have sternly reminded us that marijuana will
continue to be illegal for some 14 months. The message to law
enforcement has been unequivocal: Keep arresting people, keep busting
pot shops and keep laying charges.

But why would police continue doing that if some of these people are
going to have their records cleared or their charges dropped? Police
are already reluctant to enforce some pot laws; Sen. Vern White (a
former Ottawa police chief ) points to calls from chiefs to move
toward ticketing instead of criminalization, and says, while officers
will keep doing their jobs, "I don't know one cop out there who wants
someone to have a criminal record for that joint."

Nevertheless, roughly half of all incidents of police-reported drug
crime are for cannabis possession, whereas only nine per cent are for
trafficking, production or distribution of that same drug.

Trudeau's best course of action is to move his legalization
legislation through quickly: and to try not to talk next steps until
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