Pubdate: Thu, 08 Feb 2018
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick
Page: 10


An unusual aspect of Canada's soon-to-be-legal cannabis market is that
the activists who led the legalization movement may find themselves
excluded from the industry for which their efforts paved the way.

Vancouver activists like Jodie and Marc Emery and dispensary pioneer
Don Briere, for example, have criminal records for possessing and
selling marijuana. Now those criminal records could be used against
them in federal and provincial licensing systems that are under
development to decide who gets to cultivate and sell recreational cannabis.

Another 23,329 people across the country were charged with marijuana
offences in 2016 alone, according to Statistics Canada. So the
question of whether or not those offences will prohibit participation
in marijuana sales is one that affects a lot of people.

On February 5, the B.C. government released its first batch of
detailed rules for recreational cannabis and went a long way in
addressing activists' concerns for those with criminal records.

"Background checks of police/ criminal records which will be examined
on a case by case basis," reads a provincial licensing guide for
would-be private-retail operators.

"Having a record of criminal activity will not necessarily exclude you
from obtaining a licence," it continues. "Low risk criminal activity
may not exclude a person from becoming a licensee whereas associations
with organized crime will exclude a person from becoming a licensee."

Kirk Tousaw is a Vancouver-based lawyer who specializes in drug
policy. In a telephone interview, he described the guidelines as good

"I'm hopeful that the pioneers are not going to be excluded," he said
in reference to activists like the Emerys. "If they are prevented from
doing so, then I think we'll have a failure of implementation."

Tousaw argued it's a justice issue that's larger than how retail
licences are assigned.

"If you've been charged with a crime and convicted and you've served
your sentence, you've paid your debt to society," he explained. "When
your sentence is done, I don't think it's appropriate for the
existence of that criminal record to then prevent you from
participating in a lawful business in the future."

Ian Waddell, a former B.C. MLA and lobbyist for the dispensary
industry, suggested that Ottawa should act to prevent any possibility
of the provinces making criminal records an issue.

"The federal government could pass some sort of amnesty," he

"If the feds don't come across with some sort of blanket amnesty-and I
wouldn't hold my breath on that-the solution might be for the province
and the cities, when they're granting licences, to give it a fairly
liberal interpretation."

Last December, Jodie Emery pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana
for the purpose of trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime
over $5,000. In a telephone interview, she suggested the larger issue
is a systemic problem with how Canada has approached marijuana
legalization overall.

Emery explained that the Liberal government has focused entirely on
health and safety. In making his case for legal marijuana, Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau has seldom strayed from two points: first,
that legalization will take marijuana and its proceeds away from
organized crime; and, second, that regulation will keep marijuana away
from children.

In stark contrast, Emery continued, U.S. jurisdictions working to
legalize marijuana have focused on restorative justice, addressing
racism inherent in the war on drugs and compensation for wrongs
committed by law-enforcement agencies in their application of
marijuana laws against people of colour.

Emery pointed to Oakland, California, for example, which in May 2016
announced it would create an "equity permits" program to see the city
issue licences to sell cannabis on a basis that actually gives
preference to applicants with past convictions for marijuana crimes.

More recently, San Francisco announced it would dismiss more than
3,000 convictions for misdemeanour offences related to marijuana. In
support of the move, California lieutenant-governor Gavin Newsom said
it would help address a "costly, broken, and racially discriminatory
system of marijuana criminalization".

Emery argued that is what is missing from conversations the Liberal
government has led on cannabis reform.

"The Canadian legalization message completely abandoned the
civil-liberties argument and the justice side," she said.

"Federal government messaging has been about how marijuana is
dangerous to society and that's why they need to legalize it to
protect us from it," Emery continued. "That completely ignores the
victims of prohibition and it continues the disenfranchisement and
unfairness that we should be trying to fix by legalizing cannabis."

Don Briere is the owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts, one of Vancouver's
largest chains of storefront dispensaries. He also has multiple
convictions for growing and trafficking marijuana that go back more
than a decade. In a telephone interview, Briere warned that activists
who have led the legalization movement will not be left out of the
legal industry without a fight.

"We went to jail for this; we fought for these rights," he said. "So
we'll be filing in court if they don't treat us fairly."
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