Le­gal­iza­tion: Not Ev­ery­one Gets to Cel­e­brate

The McGill Daily - - Contents -

On Oc­to­ber 17, recre­ational mar­i­juana was le­gal­ized in Canada un­der the Cannabis Act. The Act makes it il­le­gal to pos­sess more than 30 grams of cannabis in pub­lic, mean­ing that pos­ses­sion of the drug will still be po­liced. Le­gal­iza­tion comes af­ter al­most a decade of Harper’s con­ser­va­tive “tough- on-crime” poli­cies, which aimed to in­crease pub­lic safety via manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing, even for mi­nor of­fences. Un­der these poli­cies, a large num­ber of peo­ple, most of whom were Black and Indige­nous, have been charged with, or in­car­cer­ated for, the pos­ses­sion of cannabis. A re­cent over­view of cer­tain provin­cial sta­tis­tics re­gard­ing the ra­cial di­men­sion of cannabis-re­lated ar­rests has shown clear ra­cial dis­par­i­ties. Un­der the new pol­icy, it is likely that racial­ized com­mu­ni­ties will still be tar­geted dis­pro­por­tion­ately by po­lice for drug of­fences. Le­gal­iza­tion alone will not end or rec­tify un­just crim­i­nal­iza­tion.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment re­cently promised to pro­vide par­dons for those charged with cannabis-re­lated of­fences. Al­though the gov­ern­ment has waived the $631 fee to ap­ply for a par­don and the stan­dard three-year wait­ing pe­riod, there has been no time­line re­leased as to when the par­dons will be put into ef­fect. In ad­di­tion, the gov­ern­ment will not be ex­pung­ing these charges from peo­ple’s records as they did with Bill C- 66*, mean­ing the records of these charges will not be de­stroyed. Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale stated that “the laws with re­spect to cannabis that have ex­isted his­tor­i­cally [...] are out of step with cur­rent mores and views in Canada, but are not of the same na­ture as the his­toric so­cial in­jus­tice that was im­posed in re­la­tion to the LGBTQ2 com­mu­nity.” Even af­ter re­ceiv­ing a par­don, a per­son once ar­rested for cannabis pos­ses­sion would still have to check the box “con­victed of a crim­i­nal of­fence” on hous­ing and em­ploy­ment ap­pli­ca­tions. This con­trib­utes to un­fair eco­nomic dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple of colour, fur­ther bar­ring them from ac­cess­ing hous­ing and em­ploy­ment.

Peo­ple of colour have had, and will con­tinue to have, a higher chance of be­ing pun­ished un­der the law for the pos­ses­sion of cannabis. Canada needs to crit­i­cally ad­dress and dis­man­tle the per­vad­ing ra­cial bias found in polic­ing. Even if cannabis- re­lated charges are par­doned, this does not make up for the lives neg­a­tively af­fected ei­ther by ra­cial pro­fil­ing or im­pris­on­ment. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to push our elected of­fi­cials to not only par­don, but also ex­punge, pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions.

Al­though many are cel­e­brat­ing the Cannabis Act, there is more that needs to be done. We en­cour­age you to copy this ed­i­to­rial and email it to your elected of­fi­cials. You will find the con­tact in­for­ma­tion of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly on this web­site: www.our­com­mons.ca/par­lia­men­tar­i­ans/ en/con­stituen­cies/findmp.

*Bill C- 66 ex­punged the crim­i­nal records of those ar­rested for con­sen­sual sex­ual ac­tiv­ity be­tween same­sex part­ners.

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