Pubdate: Fri, 16 Feb 2018
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2018 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Tari Ajadi


Both the Nova Scotia and federal Liberal governments are blowing the
chance to rectify years of anti-black prejudice with their marijuana

For years, the government's "tough on crime" strategy gave police
officers carte blanche to harass people of colour. Now that the
government has decided to legalize recreational marijuana, they have
no plans to issue pardons for marijuana possession

Thousands of people have been charged with pot possession over the
past decade. Things got so bad under the Harper government that the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police advocated for ticketing to
replace criminal charges for simple possession.

Predictably, black people bore the brunt of this policy.

A study by the Toronto Star showed that black Torontonians were three
times more likely to be arrested for possession compared to white
residents. Even if these individuals were not charged with a crime,
they were often "carded" and could be detained during a second arrest.

If these individuals were unlucky enough to be convicted, they
suffered significant losses. Criminal convictions make it difficult to
cross the border into the United States. Criminal record checks block
those with rap sheets from well-paying jobs.

Those who have the means can hire a lawyer and donate a sizeable sum
to charity to escape charges. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself
noted that his father was able to make a call and get his brother out
of a possession charge.

Yet, as he admitted, a 17-year-old black kid from Preston or
Scarborough is unlikely to have the funds or the connections to
wriggle their way out of a conviction.

While we don't have access to data that show the percentage of black
people convicted of possession, we do know that the black prison
population is now three times the rate of black people in the Canadian
population. That coincides with a steady increase in marijuana arrests.

This crackdown on marijuana was heightened under the watchful eye of
stalwarts like Julian Fantino and Bill Blair, both of whom were former
chiefs of police in Canada's largest city.

Fantino, who once compared legalizing weed to legalizing murder, is
now running a medical marijuana business. Blair, the Liberal
legalization czar, now speaks of "improving access" when he once
arrested black youth for doing the same thing.

This backpedalling smacks of the hypocrisy created by permeable walls
between Ottawa and the private sector. It becomes plunder when we
consider two facts:

1)  The federal government has written legislation to legalize
cannabis and provincial governments are already awarding contracts to
cannabis suppliers.

2)  People are still being arrested for marijuana possession. About
15,000 of them since the 2015 election, in fact.

With each arrest comes the spectre of decreased employment prospects,
criminal records, or money spent to avoid both.

Meanwhile, companies like Canopy Growth Corporation and the Nova
Scotia-based Aqualitas will capitalize on what could be a $5-billion
recreational market.

Perhaps Sebastian St-Louis, the founder of Canopy Growth, was the
beneficiary of luck. I'm sure he has also worked hard for his success.
But it is a lot easier to navigate labyrinthine Health Canada
regulations when you have $3 million of investment from friends and
family to purchase warehouses and equipment.

Meanwhile, those convicted of marijuana possession are unlikely to be
able to work in recreational cannabis businesses.

In effect, having a $3-million float - and the right skin colour -
gives an individual the right to participate in the market. The
injustice of this situation is startling, especially when we consider
that cities in California are currently offering equity permits for
entrepreneurs convicted of cannabis-related crimes over the past 20

While the provincial government does not have control over pardons or
permits, they cannot escape culpability here, either. Their choice to
sell cannabis through just nine NSLC outlets will further prevent
potential black entrepreneurs from participating in the market,
forgoing clear opportunities to create jobs and investment in
underserved communities.

There are far better ways for legalization to proceed.

The federal government should not wait until they are faced with a
class-action lawsuit to do the right thing and expunge conviction records.

The provincial government, meanwhile, could quite easily follow its
own suggestion for businesses and create jobs for black people to work
in the cannabis industry.

They won't do this, of course. It's inconvenient.

Instead, they'll talk about "sunny ways," tick off another box on the
"deliverology" checklist, and leave black people out in the cold.

When it comes to these governments and social justice, there's plenty
of smoke, but no fire.

- -------------------------------------------------------------------

Tari Ajadi is pursuing a master of public administration degree at 
Dalhousie University and is a student at the MacEachen Institute for 
Public Policy and Governance.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt