CANNABIS AMNESTY

Last minute an­nounce­ment prom­ises quicker and cheaper path to ex­punged pot-poses­sion charges.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY CAORA MCKENNA

Join­ing

the list of things that used to be il­le­gal and aren’t any­more—fea­tur­ing mar­garine, Sun­day shop­ping, al­co­hol and the right to vote for any­one who isn’t a white male—is cannabis.

Af­ter al­most a cen­tury of pro­hi­bi­tion, Canada’s path to le­gal­iza­tion has not been clear-cut. And of all the groups con­sid­ered in the long, costly task force on cannabis, the 600,000 Cana­di­ans with a pot-re­lated crim­i­nal record were con­sid­ered last.

The fed­eral govern­ment an­nounced the day of le­gal­iza­tion that they plan to make it quicker and cheaper to ob­tain a crim­i­nal par­don for pre­vi­ous pot-pos­ses­sion con­vic­tions, which is good news for those sit­ting in Cana­dian jails (or try­ing and fail­ing to get jobs be­cause of their crim­i­nal records).

Myrna Gillis, CEO of Liver­pool’s li­censed cannabis pro­ducer Aqual­i­tas, says that amnesty—clear­ing the record of mi­nor drug of­fenses for some­thing that is now le­gal—is just a recog­ni­tion that so­ci­ety has changed.

“If the ob­jec­tive of the leg­is­la­tion is to erad­i­cate the black mar­ket,” says Gillis, “then some of those par­tic­i­pants who were mo­ti­vated, not by crim­i­nal en­ter­prise, but by com­pas­sion, should cer­tainly have the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate.”

Gillis got started in the in­dus­try as an ad­vo­cate for medic­i­nal cannabis and says there’s no ques­tion that crim­i­nal charges have im­pacted the lives of med­i­cal pa­tients.

“Crim­i­nal charges im­pact abil­ity to get em­ploy­ment, abil­ity to travel,” she says. “There’s a cer­tain stigma as­so­ci­ated with a crim­i­nal record as well, even if that’s an un­fair thing.”

Un­der pre­vi­ous cannabis leg­is­la­tion, the max­i­mum penal­ties on a first con­vic­tion for pos­ses­sion of up to 30 grams were a fine of $1,000, six months in jail or both.

Last year in Nova Sco­tia, 256 of all drug pos­ses­sion charges—or 56 per­cent—were cannabis re­lated.

Un­til the Lib­eral’s drafted bill be­comes law those charged with cannabis-re­lated charges still have to pay $600 and wait five to 10 years to even ap­ply for a par­don, which doesn’t guar­an­tee the charges will be re­moved from their record.

Gillis puts the ques­tion of amnesty into three cat­e­gories: Peo­ple with crim­i­nal records be­cause of ex­ploita­tive, vi­o­lent and crim­i­nal be­hav­iour; the “good ac­tors” in the in­dus­try who worked with com­pas­sion clubs to help get medic­i­nal cannabis to peo­ple who needed it; and the “least con­tro­ver­sial”—the ones who just con­sumed the prod­uct in very small quan­ti­ties for their per­sonal use.

The third cat­e­gory is what most peo­ple are think­ing of when ad­vo­cat­ing for amnesty. Specif­i­cally, the Black and In­dige­nous Cana­di­ans who are over­rep­re­sented in cannabis ar­rests across the coun­try.

Rachel Browne’s re­port­ing for Vice News this year de­tailed this sys­temic, cannabis-re­lated crim­i­nal­iza­tion. Browne found that in Hal­i­fax, Black peo­ple were more than five times more likely to get ar­rested for pos­sess­ing weed than white peo­ple, though they’re not sta­tis­ti­cally more likely to pos­sess or use cannabis.

Those fig­ures speak to why Clau­dia Chen­der, MLA for Dart­mouth South and the NDP’s jus­tice critic, is call­ing cannabis amnesty “an eq­uity is­sue.”

It’s why Chen­der and the NDP have pushed to stop street checks which for a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of POC end in mi­nor of­fenses like cannabis pos­ses­sion.

“The re­al­ity is that as of the 17th, cannabis is a le­gal sub­stance,” says Chen­der. “And so it’s im­por­tant that...we ac­tu­ally treat it that way. And that we don’t con­tinue to pe­nal­ize peo­ple for the use and pos­ses­sion of some­thing that is now rec­og­nized as be­ing le­gal.”

The case for amnesty here, says Gillis, is no dif­fer­ent than amnesties granted retroac­tively in the past, like in the case of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“Those laws were not re­flec­tive of cur­rent day so­ci­ety.”

ADOBE STOCK

In Nova Sco­tia last year, 56 per­cent of all drug charges were for a prod­uct that’s le­gal as of this week.

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