Ot­tawa look­ing at amnesty for pot pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions: Goodale

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NATIONAL - MAURA FOR­REST

OT­TAWA — The Lib­eral govern­ment is look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of amnesty for peo­ple with pot pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions once mar­i­juana is le­gal­ized, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale.

“We’re weigh­ing all of the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions to make sure that we fully un­der­stand all the di­men­sions of this and, when we’re in a po­si­tion to make an an­nounce­ment, we will do so,” Goodale told re­porters dur­ing the Lib­eral cabi­net re­treat in Lon­don, Ont., Fri­day.

Goodale wouldn’t give a time­frame for any de­ci­sion on amnesty, nor would he say what le­gal im­pli­ca­tions are be­ing con­sid­ered. “I think the re­spon­si­ble thing is to do the anal­y­sis, see where the un­fair­nesses are and take the ap­pro­pri­ate steps to cor­rect those prob­lems,” he said. “But you need to do it in an or­derly way.”

In 2016 alone, 17,733 peo­ple were charged with pos­ses­sion of cannabis, down 3,600 from the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada. More than half of the 95,400 drug of­fences that year were cannabis-re­lated, and the ma­jor­ity of those were pos­ses­sion of­fences.

Goodale’s com­ments marked a change from last April, when he said a blan­ket par­don was “not an item that’s on the agenda at the mo­ment.” At the time, he noted that a for­mal process al­ready ex­ists to have crim­i­nal records set aside.

But that same month, at a fo­rum hosted by VICE Canada, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity of amnesty once pot be­comes le­gal, which he has promised will hap­pen by July 2018.

“We’ll take steps to look at what we can do for those folks who have crim­i­nal records for some­thing that would no longer be crim­i­nal,” he said.

On Fri­day, Toronto Lib­eral MP Nathaniel Ersk­ine-Smith, who has pushed for amnesty, said it’s im­por­tant that the govern­ment “ad­dress the un­fair­ness of pro­hi­bi­tion.”

“All I know is this is the right thing to do. The cur­rent state of af­fairs is com­pletely unjust,” he said in an in­ter­view, point­ing out that amnesty was part of the orig­i­nal Lib­eral Party res­o­lu­tion on mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

Ersk­ine-Smith has also spo­ken out in favour of de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana and other drugs. But his party has stead­fastly re­fused to con­sider de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing pot pos­ses­sion ahead of le­gal­iza­tion in July.

“This is a ma­jor change in the law. It takes time to get there in an or­derly fash­ion,” Goodale told re­porters on Fri­day. “And in the mean­time, the ex­ist­ing law re­mains and peo­ple need to obey that law.”

Ersk­ine-Smith said it’s too late to ar­gue about de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion now. “That ship sailed, and so I think the next best thing is — where can we move the needle on ad­dress­ing the pre­vi­ous in­jus­tices of pro­hi­bi­tion?”

NDP MP Don Davies said Ot­tawa could con­sider is­su­ing a blan­ket par­don for pos­ses­sion of­fences that would no longer be il­le­gal un­der the Lib­er­als’ pot leg­is­la­tion. Oth­er­wise, he said, the govern­ment could de­cide to waive the five-year wait and the roughly $600 fee that Cana­di­ans cur­rently face if they want to have their crim­i­nal record sus­pended. But to refuse amnesty, he said, would be “il­log­i­cal and harm­ful.”

How­ever, Davies noted that a crim­i­nal record for pot pos­ses­sion, even af­ter a par­don, would likely still be vis­i­ble to U.S. bor­der guards. He urged Goodale to “at least try” to ne­go­ti­ate with the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to come up with a so­lu­tion for Cana­di­ans trav­el­ling south of the bor­der, where mar­i­juana is still il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law.

There have been other indi­ca­tions that Ot­tawa is open to some form of amnesty for those with cannabis of­fences. Draft reg­u­la­tions re­leased in Novem­ber show that the govern­ment is con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing those with charges of small-scale pot pos­ses­sion or cul­ti­va­tion to ob­tain the se­cu­rity clear­ance nec­es­sary to oc­cupy a se­nior role with a li­censed mar­i­juana com­pany.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Safety and Emer­gency Pre­pared­ness Ralph Goodale ar­rives for the Lib­eral cabi­net re­treat in Lon­don, Ont., on Fri­day. Goodale has said the Lib­eral govern­ment is con­sid­er­ing amnesty for peo­ple with mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions once the drug is le­gal­ized.

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