The federal government should immediately decriminalize the possession of small quantities of marijuana. And it needs a plan to make it easier for people convicted under the present drug laws to obtain a pardon and wipe their record clean.
By this time next year, if all goes to plan, using marijuana for recreational purposes will be legal in Canada.
At the same time, it’s becoming clearer by the week that Ottawa must take two additional steps to make sure we don’t perpetuate the damage done by our outdated drug laws.
First, the federal government should immediately decriminalize the possession and use of small quantities of marijuana. And second, it needs a plan to make it easier for the many thousands of people convicted under the present law to obtain a pardon and wipe their record clean.
Decriminalization should come first. It would prevent even more people from being charged under the existing law and ending up with a criminal record for doing something the government has already said should be legal.
At the moment, the Trudeau government is sending out a contradictory, even incoherent message to the two million-plus Canadians who use pot for non-medical reasons.
On the one hand, it’s only a matter of months now before possessing and using up to 30 grams of cannabis will be legalized. The government has made a persuasive argument that legalization is the best way to take the marijuana trade out of the hands of criminals and make it subject to strict government regulation.
On the other, police can still arrest and charge anyone caught with a joint in their pocket. The courts are still clogged with thousands of petty pot charges and users are still at risk of ending up with a damaging criminal record.
Decriminalizing personal pot use now would end that. Police could hand out tickets and fines rather than having to go through the cumbersome process of arresting users and laying criminal charges.
At the same time, the government must address how it’s going to deal with the enormous backlog of people who have been convicted in past decades for simple possession of marijuana.
They can face a range of problems in obtaining jobs, travelling outside the country, or in future dealings with police – all for doing something the government is now in the process of making as unremarkable as buying and consuming a bottle of wine.
At the moment, a person convicted of simple possession can apply for a pardon (officially called a “record suspension”) after five years. But that can be costly and cumbersome, requiring legal help and hundreds of dollars just for processing fees.