Amnesty mulled for marijuana crimes
‘ The current approach is simply failing’
• 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.
The government has a duty to maintain a hard line on federal prosecutions for minor offences until marijuanais on the same legal footing as alcohol and tobacco, former Toronto police chief and MP Bill Blair insists.