B.C. Lawyers and Activists Argue Criminal Records Can’t Be Allowed to Sink Cannabis Entrepreneurs

Article by Travis Lupick, Georgia Straight

B.C. lawyers and activists argue criminal records can't be allowed to sink cannabis entrepreneurs U.S. jurisdictions working to legalize marijuana have focused on restorative justice and addressing racism inherent in the war on drugs, in stark contrast to Canada  by Travis Lupick.  Jodie Emery worries that the federal government is not coming to the aid of the many victims of prohibition, including herself and her husband, Marc Emery.

An unusual aspect of Canada’s soon-to-be-legal cannabis market is that the activists who led the legalization movement may find themselves excluded from the industry for which their efforts paved the way.

Vancouver activists like Jodie and Marc Emery and dispensary pioneer Don Briere, for example, have criminal records for possessing and selling marijuana. Now those criminal records could be used against them in federal and provincial licensing systems that are under development to decide who gets to cultivate and sell recreational cannabis.

Another 23,329 people across the country were charged with marijuana offences in 2016 alone, according to Statistics Canada. So the question of whether or not those offences will prohibit participation in marijuana sales is one that affects a lot of people.

On February 5, the B.C. government released its first batch of detailed rules for recreational cannabis and went a long way in addressing activists’ concerns for those with criminal records.

“Background checks of police/criminal records which will be examined on a case by case basis,” reads a provincial licensing guide for would-be private-retail operators.

“Having a record of criminal activity will not necessarily exclude you from obtaining a licence,” it continues. “Low risk criminal activity may not exclude a person from becoming a licensee whereas associations with organized crime will exclude a person from becoming a licensee.”

Kirk Tousaw is a Vancouver-based lawyer who specializes in drug policy. In a telephone interview, he described the guidelines as good news.

“I’m hopeful that the pioneers are not going to be excluded,” he said in reference to activists like the Emerys. “If they are prevented from doing so, then I think we’ll have a failure of implementation.”

Tousaw argued it’s a justice issue that’s larger than how retail licences are assigned.

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