An Ontario woman who received an expedited pardon for cannabis possession from the federal government expects it will help her move forward in her professional life, but sees room for improvement in the criminal-record suspension program.
"It wasn't a simple process, and there is still a barrier of entry for a lot of people, which is the cost of getting the fingerprints done, the cost of getting to those places to do it, moving around town," says the pardon recipient.
"I'm privileged enough to have my own business and a driver's licence, so I can do those things, but there's people that just don't have access, and may never know if they even qualify."
The Leaf News is identifying the pardon recipient only as "Jen" to respect the spirit of her recently granted amnesty and help her move on from her criminal conviction.
Jen and her partner, who own and operate a head shop in a mid-sized Ontario city, were arrested in 2017 following a law-enforcement raid on the store where they were selling cannabis seeds. The original search warrant was for seeds, and Jen says she never sold cannabis, but at the time of the raid, the store happened to be full of submissions for a cannabis judging competition.
When police found all that weed, the pair were arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
Ottawa's special cannabis pardons program is only available to Canadians charged with "simple possession" of cannabis — if the drug trafficking charges had stuck, Jen and her partner wouldn't have been eligible. But after months in and out of court, the judge reduced their trafficking charges to simple possession. Jen and her partner were free to go after paying a fine, but they were stuck with criminal records.Advertisement
The pardons program that kicked off in August waives the regular waiting period and fee for criminal records suspensions. Jen was among the first in line, and had the official application government forms filled out within days.
That paperwork was just the first step in the multi-stage process. Jen paid $75 at a private fingerprinting agency to get her prints taken and submitted electronically to an RCMP database. About 10 days later, the RCMP sent Jen her entire criminal record. Next came another records check with her local police.
"However, because, I guess, this was such a new process, the local police did not know what to do with it," says Jen, who waited about five weeks to receive the local records check.
The RCMP and local police records clearly showed that Jen's only conviction was for simple cannabis possession, so she didn't need to get any additional court records for her application. She sent the records and the completed application off to the Parole Board of Canada at the start of October. The record suspension was approved within about a week, and she received formal notification of the criminal record suspension in the mail not long after.
"Honestly, just getting it in the mail was really emotional," says Jen. "It was great to close that chapter of my life."
Jen and her partner are trying to obtain a retail licence to turn their Ontario head shop in to a legal, licensed cannabis store.
"My entire life is cannabis, this is our business, and if we had to have perfectly legal (criminal) records to participate in the legal market, we were really concerned about what that would mean for us. Our moves in the legal market were definitely limited by having a simple possession of cannabis charge for the whole thing," she says.
However, Jen expects she might still have trouble entering the United States in the future. Even though Jen's conviction will no longer appear on Canadian criminal record checks, attorney general David Lametti has warned that U.S. border authorities could still have Canadian cannabis conviction information in their own databases.
Despite her success navigating the judicial bureaucracy to receive her pardon, Jen believes Canadians would be better off with unilateral government expungement of past criminal convictions for cannabis possession, an approach proposed by the NDP and supported by advocates.
"It should be an expungement, that's ideal, but beggars can't be choosers," Jen says. "Like, I'll take it because it's here, but I'll still push for expungements and I still voted NDP for that reason."
For other Canadians with cannabis possession convictions who are considering applying for an expedited cannabis pardon, Jen has some straightforward advice: "The worst they can say is 'No,' so just do it."
As of Oct. 25, the Parole Board of Canada says it received 186 applications for expedited cannabis pardons and accepted 92 of them. Of the 92 accepted applications, 90 record suspensions had been ordered and two applications were discontinued. Seventy-nine applications were returned for being either ineligible or incomplete, and 15 applications were still awaiting processing.