The plan to legalize marijuana should recognize that the black community has been overly criminalized for using the drug, says a Liberal MP who is calling on the government to consider that perspective.
“We do know that black Canadians have been disproportionately charged with and are imprisoned for possession of small amounts of cannabis,” Greg Fergus, a Quebec MP who chairs the Liberal black caucus, said Tuesday.
“I don’t think that’s because there is a greater propensity in the black community to consume marijuana,” he said.
“We have to look at the questions of systemic racism.”
Fergus added that the same could be said for Indigenous Peoples and he wants to make sure that is reflected in the ongoing debate over the proposed legislation to legalize marijuana, also known as Bill C-45, which the House of Commons health committee will begin studying next month.
The MP, who gathered with other African-Canadian leaders in Ottawa this week to discuss this and other issues affecting people of colour, said they also want to reach out to the community to discuss the economic and social justice impacts of the proposed legislation.
Fergus nonetheless said he agreed with the Liberal government’s decision not to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana for the time being.
New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor questioned Fergus’s logic.
“How can the Liberals claim to understand this issue and yet choose to keep handing out possession charges and criminal records that unfairly target young people of colour?” he said in an emailed statement.
Reacting to Charlottesville
Fergus, who appeared at a news conference in Ottawa alongside Michael Coteau, the Ontario minister responsible for anti-racism, and Independent Sen. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard, said the leaders also discussed the need for more data on race across all levels of government.
As well, they talked about the importance of seeking allies outside their communities and efforts to adopt the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent.