Amnesty mulled for mar­i­juana crimes

‘ The cur­rent ap­proach is sim­ply fail­ing’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - I an MacLeod Ottawa Ci­ti­zen

• There will be no halt to pros­e­cu­tions for mi­nor mar­i­juana of­fences, but the govern­ment will likely con­sider fu­ture amnesty for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans al­ready sad­dled with crim­i­nal records for sim­ple pos­ses­sion, says the Lib­eral point man on pot.

The com­ments by for­mer Toronto po­lice chief and MP Bill Blair came amid in­creas­ing calls for fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to cease crim­i­nal cases against peo­ple charged with sim­ple pot pos­ses­sion and mi­nor traf­fick­ing, even though Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau vows to le­gal­ize weed dur­ing his party’s cur­rent four-year man­date.

Blair, speak­ing to the Se­nate Lib­eral cau­cus Wed­nes­day, de­liv­ered a mixed mes­sage.

As many as 1.1 mil­lion Cana­di­ans have mar­i­juana-re­lated crim­i­nal records dat­ing back to 1965. In 2014 alone, 22,000 peo­ple were charged with mar­i­juana- r el ated crimes, which Blair called “shock­ing.”

“The cur­rent ap­proach is sim­ply fail­ing in our pub­lic safety and our pub­lic health goals,” he said. “The vast ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans no longer be­lieve that mar­i­juana should be sub­ject to harsh crim­i­nal sanc­tions.

“One of the great in­jus­tices in this coun­try,” is the dis­parate and dis­pro­por­tional po­lice en­force­ment of mar­i­juana laws and, “the im­pact that it has on mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties and those in our most vul­ner­a­ble neigh­bour­hoods.”

Yet Blair in­sisted govern­ment has a duty to main­tain a hard line on con­tin­u­ing fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions for mi­nor of­fences un­til mar­i­juana is on the same le­gal foot­ing as al­co­hol and to­bacco.

“The laws that cur­rently ex­ist in this coun­try are in force and in ef­fect and it’s im­por­tant that those laws con­tinue to be obeyed, up­held and en­forced,” he de­clared.

Blair, who serves as par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son- Ray­bould, was asked by Sen. Jim Mun­son about the govern­ment grant­ing amnesty to Cana­di­ans with prior sim­ple pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions.

“Thou­sands walk around with th­ese crim­i­nal records to­day and can’t get work,” said Mun­son. “Is ( there) a pos­si­bil­ity that amnesty could be granted dur­ing this fouryear term?”

Blair re­sponded, “I’m sure it’s an is­sue that we will dis­cuss in the fu­ture.” Pressed later by re­porters, he wouldn’t elab­o­rate.

Blair of­fered no de­tails ei­ther on when the govern­ment ex­pects to in­tro­duce a le­gal­iza­tion bill in Par­lia­ment.

“We’re go­ing to move ahead with this with all due at­ten­tion, but at the same time, we’re go­ing to take the time to do it right,” he told the com­mit­tee.

“This is a com­plex is­sue and, in or­der to get this right, the govern­ment is un­der­tak­ing a num­ber of ini­tial steps,” in­clud­ing gath­er­ing sci­en­tific and health ev­i­dence, “to make sure we make pub­lic pol­icy de­ci­sions in­formed by ev­i­dence and ex­per­tise.”

Blair re­peated govern­ment state­ments that a fed­er­al­provin­cial- ter­ri­to­rial task force will be an­nounced “in the com­ing weeks,” to con­sult ex­perts and oth­ers on a frame­work for the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, which is ex­pected to con­tain strict pro­vi­sions to reg­u­late and tax the drug.

More than 325 or­ga­nized crime groups op­er­at­ing Canada are thought to de­rive their chief source of in­come from mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion and traf­fick­ing.

ED­UARDO VER­DUGO / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The govern­ment has a duty to main­tain a hard line on fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions for mi­nor of­fences un­til mar­i­juana

is on the same le­gal foot­ing as al­co­hol and to­bacco, for­mer Toronto po­lice chief and MP Bill Blair in­sists.

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