Pubdate: Tue, 16 Jan 2018
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Page: A13


Legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada is only a few months
away, but it's going to take a lot longer than that to clean up the
mess left behind from almost a century of prohibition. One of the most
pressing issues has to be to wipe the slate clean for Canadians who
have criminal records for possession.

When Bill C-45 (the Cannabis Act) was tabled, the government said
there would be no general amnesty for past convictions. But now it
seems the Liberals are starting to come to their senses - at least a

At a cabinet retreat last week in London, Ont., federal Public Safety
Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is examining the
implications of possible pardons or record suspensions, but no action
would be taken until after July 1.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for his part, acknowledged that a lot
of people have been harmed by having criminal records for possession
of a drug that will soon be legal. But, in the same breath, he said
that people will continue to be prosecuted for possession of
marijuanauntil a "legalized and controlled regime is in place - not

Mr. Trudeau's dubious justification for this hardline approach is that
"anyone who is currently purchasing marijuana is participating in
illegal activity that is funding criminal organizations and street

The PM needs to be reminded that one of the principal reasons
legalization makes sense is having a criminal record is a lot worse
for a person's health than smoking pot. It can make finding a job,
getting a bank loan and travelling much more difficult, not to mention
prosecuting people for buying a few grams of pot to get high is a
tremendous waste of police and court resources.

For decades now, tens of thousands of people a year have been busted
for possession. Racialized and low-income Canadians have been
disproportionately prosecuted and harmed.

In 2016 alone - after it was clear cannabis would be legalized - there
were 55,000 cannabis-related charged laid under the Controlled Drugs
and Substances Act - 76 per cent of them for simple possession -
according to Statistics Canada. That number has been falling for years
as police and prosecutors began to recognize the absurdity of the law.
Judges have also increasingly imposed suspended sentences and small

In other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis, such as
California, they simply removed the crime of possession from the books
- - and did so retroactively. They also reduced penalties for
cultivating and selling cannabis.

Canada is taking a much more convoluted and outdated approach. Under
the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, there are currently eight
cannabis-related offences, such as possession, trafficking, importing
and exporting. Under the Cannabis Act, there will be 45 offences, and
many penalties will be far stiffer.

Under the new law, it will be legal for individuals to possess up to
30 grams (one ounce) of cannabis and grow up to four plants for
personal consumption. (Those rules, however, vary a bit by province.)

Cannabis will be highly regulated; the new legal regime does not
create a laissez-faire environment. For example, public possession of
more than 30 grams of marijuana will be a crime, as will "unauthorized

The new law will also create something called "illicit cannabis" -
covering all products that are not purchased in a provincially
regulated store, or grown legally. If you distribute "illicit
cannabis" to a minor, i.e. share a joint with a teenager or sell them
a bit of pot, you could face a $15,000 fine and 18 months in prison
for a summary offence and up to 14 years in prison for an indictable

By comparison, selling liquor to a minor will land you a maximum fine
of $10,000 in most provinces.

Selling cannabis without a licence will also be a crime with stiff
penalties - up to 14 years in prison - which could prove problematic
for dispensaries in provinces that are creating a state-run monopoly,
such as Ontario and Quebec. Ontario, which has vowed to shut down
dispensaries, has also threatened additional fines of up to $1-million.

In the U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana - six states
and three more coming in 2018 - criminal charges have dropped sharply.
But, in Canada, that's not a given, and that's most unfortunate.
Ottawa needs to not only expunge the records of those who have been
charged with possession in the past, but ensure it does not perpetuate
the morally and rationally untenable litany of prosecutions of
recreational drug users that are the hallmark of the failed war on
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MAP posted-by: Matt