Pubdate: Sun, 28 May 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Tiffany Gooch
Page: A17


Marijuana legalization was a key pillar of the Liberal platform in the
2015 election and the successful implementation of this promise will
be a defining moment for the Justin Trudeau government and its legacy.

The definition of success for this mammoth policy file varies greatly
depending on who is being consulted. Businesses large and small are
jockeying for influence in the new cannabis economy. Provincial
governments are watching closely to identify their own steps forward.
Border cities are grappling with the tourism implications. Mental
health advocates are calling for health-focused regulations.

A Nanos Research poll released last week revealed that a whopping 62
per cent of Canadians are in support of pardons for those carrying a
criminal record for marijuana possession.

The federal Liberal government has been worryingly evasive on the
topic of amnesty. While amnesty was not among the promises made in the
Liberal platform, it's simply the right thing to do.

As the government moves to legalize marijuana, thousands of Canadians
will continue to carry criminal records for simple possession, thereby
excluding them from employment opportunities, including jobs created
in the new cannabis economy.

Currently, individuals carrying a criminal record for simple
possession are eligible for record suspension five years after the
completion of their sentence. A proactive amnesty plan would take a
blanket approach to ensure fairness, specifically for marginalized
Canadians disproportionately impacted by the current system.

This is a race issue. Not because more minorities use marijuana
illegally, but because we are more likely to be targeted by police and
caught carrying. Moving forward with legalization without a formal
commitment to amnesty only serves to further disadvantage marginalized

The talking points federal ministers are using centre largely on the
protection of youth. In the final report of the Task Force on Cannabis
Legalization and Regulation the words "children" and "youth" appeared
224 times, while marginalized Canadians were given six honourable
mentions. There is no mention of race at all in the 106-page framework
released in November of 2016.

Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, was
appointed the government lead on the cannabis legalization initiative.
In February, he was quoted in the National Post saying "disparate and
disproportional police enforcement of marijuana laws and the impact on
minority communities is 'One of the great injustices in this country.'
" He left the door open to amnesty as an issue to be discussed "in the

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale provided a glimpse into
government intentions on proactive pardons when he stated in a CBC
interview last month that it was not on the agenda "at the moment."

I'm perplexed as to how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his recent
VICE interview could acknowledge that minority and marginalized
communities are unfairly impacted by cannabis criminalization and tell
a story about how his father helped his brother get off for a
possession charge, if not to conclude that amnesty is the only just

Even the C.D. Howe Institute recommended the pardoning of individuals
who have been convicted for illegal possession, granted that they have
not been convicted or charged for any other offence under the Criminal

Canada has an opportunity to be a world leader in progressive pot
policy. Amnesty should be central to our legalization plan, instead of
an afterthought. Tax revenue could be earmarked for reintegration
services and employment supports in marginalized communities.

With a majority government and clear public support, the only
remaining barrier the Liberals face on the issue of amnesty is time.
The self-imposed legalization deadline is July 1, 2018. Planning for
amnesty alongside legalization would be a logistical nightmare; but
not impossible.

This government has a lot to consider when weighing the complex
impacts marijuana legalization will have on our country.

The task ahead is challenging. But in the words of Prime Minister
Trudeau, "Canada is supposed to be fair for everyone."

I hope the prime minister will find the moral courage to do the right
thing and commit publicly to an amnesty program and timeline.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms 
Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive 
Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in 
Canadian politics.
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