Mar­i­juana amnesty for all

Cam­paign launched to ad­dress the racial bias in Canada’s pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­juana laws is push­ing a big­ger plan to help racial­ized peo­ple suc­ceed in the fast grow­ing le­gal weed busi­ness

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By KIERAN DELAMONT news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto.

There’s an un­com­fort­able truth to reckon with when it comes to cannabis le­gal­iza­tion in Canada – for peo­ple of colour the dam­age of pro­hi­bi­tion has al­ready been done. In Toronto, for ex­am­ple, Black men are three times more likely to be charged with sim­ple pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana than white men. What’s needed now, say lawyers and aca­demics who’ve re­cently launched the Cam­paign for Cannabis Amnesty, is an amend­ment to Bill C-45 that will grant par­dons to those who have been ar­rested for sim­ple pos­ses­sion.

“The crim­i­nal­iza­tion of cannabis has done an enor­mous amount of harm, and the gov­ern­ment is not at­tempt­ing to rec­tify that harm,” says An­na­maria Ene­na­jor, a lawyer with the firm Ruby, Shiller & Ene­na­jor in Toronto.

Ene­na­jor says there are ap­prox­i­mately 600,000 Cana­di­ans who have a con­vic­tion for sim­ple cannabis pos­ses­sion.

But the cam­paign is not just about push­ing for pol­icy to ad­dress racial bias in Canada’s pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­juana laws. Ene­na­jor says the ul­ti­mate goal is to help racial­ized peo­ple suc­ceed in the bur­geon­ing le­gal weed in­dus­try that they are cur­rently pro­hib­ited

from par­tic­i­pat­ing in be­cause of their weed records.

“It’s re­ally dis­heart­en­ing to see how peo­ple who have had their lives torn apart [are] com­pletely left out of the con­ver­sa­tion,” says Ene­na­jor.

And cops are still ar­rest­ing peo­ple for pos­ses­sion at wildly un­even rates. A re­cent VICE News in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that Indige­nous peo­ple in Regina were nine times more likely to be ar­rested on pos­ses­sion charges than white peo­ple. Sim­i­lar sta­tis­tics ex­ist across the coun­try.

“We need to rec­og­nize that Canada has been con­duct­ing its own war on drugs for sev­eral decades,” says Ak­wasi Owusu-Bem­pah, a U of T so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor who is in­volved with the cam­paign.

Re­cently, the Grits’ pot czar, Scar­bor­ough MP Bill Blair, hinted that the gov­ern­ment might be open to the idea of an amnesty, ac­knowl­edg­ing that the le­gal con­se­quences for those charged were “out of pro­por­tion with the of­fence that we were try­ing to con­trol.”

In Jan­uary, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said that he would “re­flect on the fair­ness” of con­vic­tions al­ready on the books. The plan, how­ever, has been to do so after pot is le­gal­ized.

But at the mo­ment there are no plans to do that via Bill C-45. A spokesper­son

for Jus­tice Canada tells NOW that the gov­ern­ment “will ex­am­ine how to make things fairer for Cana­di­ans who have been pre­vi­ously con­victed for mi­nor pos­ses­sion of­fences... once Bill C-45 is en­acted.”

But Ene­na­jor says there’s no rea­son that can’t hap­pen sooner. To that end, she says the cam­paign is try­ing to get a Sen­a­tor to spon­sor an amend­ment to the bill.

“Pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana shouldn’t in­volve a life sen­tence,” she says.

The Lib­er­als specif­i­cally chose not to in­clude amnesty in Bill C-45, de­spite ex­plicit lan­guage out­lin­ing amnesty as a goal when the Lib­eral Party first adopted cannabis le­gal­iza­tion as a pol­icy at its 2012 con­ven­tion in Ot­tawa.

The res­o­lu­tion moved by the party’s youth wing reads, in part, “that a new Lib­eral gov­ern­ment will ex­tend amnesty to all Cana­di­ans pre­vi­ously con­victed of sim­ple and min­i­mal mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, and en­sure the elim­i­na­tion of all crim­i­nal records re­lated thereto.”

Cur­rently, Cana­di­ans can get crimes ex­punged from their records, but the process in­volves plenty of pa­per­work, wait times and a hefty $631 ap­pli­ca­tion fee.

Cannabis pos­ses­sion is a small part

of a larger prob­lem: the re­stric­tions, both for­mal and in­for­mal on peo­ple who have done the crime and also the time. Other ju­ris­dic­tions have gone fur­ther in their at­tempts to rec­tify this prob­lem. In Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, where cannabis was re­cently le­gal­ized, half of the per­mits to op­er­ate med­i­cal mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties are set aside for peo­ple with prior con­vic­tions for pot pos­ses­sion or peo­ple who live in a neigh­bour­hood that had been tar­geted by po­lice for drug en­force­ment.

No such pro­grams ex­ist or have been pro­posed in Canada, and strict reg­u­la­tions on the med­i­cal in­dus­try have meant that most peo­ple with pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions won’t be able to work in the in­dus­try.

“We’re dou­bly harm­ing those peo­ple,” says Owusu-Bem­pah.

The regs don’t only am­plify racial prej­u­dices of pro­hi­bi­tion.

Ot­tawa-based lawyer Trina Fraser says those reg­u­la­tions keep many women, who have been lead­ers in the cannabis grey mar­ket, out of the no­to­ri­ously male-dom­i­nated le­gal mar­ket.

“Po­lice are still ar­rest­ing peo­ple, [and] they’re not go­ing to stop ar­rest­ing peo­ple,” says Ene­na­jor.

In Oak­land, half of the per­mits to op­er­ate med­i­cal mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties are set aside for peo­ple with prior con­vic­tions for pot pos­ses­sion.

Some 600,000 Cana­di­ans have a con­vic­tion for sim­ple pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana – and cops are still bust­ing peo­ple.

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