Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Clemency for Cannabis Crimes?

Despite calls for the government to suspend prosecution of cannabis-related offences in the lead-up to legalization, the government probably won't allow individuals to apply for pardons until after legalization is enacted.

 (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press Files)

Despite calls for the government to suspend prosecution of cannabis-related offences in the lead-up to legalization, the government probably won't allow individuals to apply for pardons until after legalization is enacted.

This morning, we published a story about the historical harms cannabis prohibition has caused to people of colour in Canada, and how issuing pardons for cannabis-related crimes might help the government make amends.

La Presse had a scoop on that very same topic today: an anonymous government source told the newspaper the federal government has made a decision on cannabis amnesty. (We'd like to think that's because the prime minister read our article and had an epiphany, but it seems unlikely.)

Quizzed about amnesty by reporters this morning, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed the Liberal government is indeed giving it some thought.

"The prime minister had indicated some time ago that we would examine all of this very carefully, and that examination is underway," he said. "We will make the appropriate announcements when we've done the analysis, but that work is ongoing."

Despite calls for the government to suspend prosecution of cannabis-related offences in the lead-up to legalization, it sounds like any government plan to issue a general amnesty or allow individuals to apply for pardons won't take place until after legalization is enacted.

In an emailed statement, Goodale's spokesman wrote:

"We're taking the time to make this change in an orderly, coherent way. In the meantime, the existing law remains in place. We’re working assiduously to get the job done.

An individual convicted of simple possession of marijuana, up to 30 grams, is eligible to apply for a record suspension through the Parole Board of Canada, five years after the sentence is completed.

We will be making reforms to the pardons system based on input Canadians shared in public consultations. Pardons are the final step in the reintegration process. Inaccessible pardons can be a significant barrier to good employment as many positions require criminal record checks."

Some Canadians will be frustrated that the government is preparing to offer amnesty with one hand while continuing to prosecute people for existing cannabis charges with the other.

From the government's perspective, though, delaying amnesty until after legalization makes some kind of sense.

We're just speculating here, but our guess is that Ottawa fears offering amnesty ahead of legalization would embolden the already-booming black market for cannabis by giving illegal players a chance to operate without fear of repercussions.

Of course, that's not much comfort to Canadians living with cannabis charges and convictions right now. But if those criminalized Canucks can hold on just a bit longer, their prospects for absolution look brighter than ever.


New on The Leaf

  • The Argument for Amnesty: Learn about why government pardons for cannabis crimes could help address historic racial injustice.
  • Cops Call for Cash: If weed is going to be legal, why are some Canadian police asking for more money to enforce the new laws?
  • THC-Free Cannabis: Our advice columnist helps a reader figure out whether medical cannabis users can avoid the high.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Where There Isn't Smoke: The city of Montreal wants to enact strict rules on where its residents can toke up after legalization, including temporary bans during events.
  • Famous Figureheads: Tragically Hip lead guitarist Rob Baker and his bandmates own a significant stake in an early-stage cannabis company. Globe and Mail reporters Jeffrey Jones and Christina Pellegrini explore how the kings of Canadian cottage rock came to partner with corporate cannabis.
  • Money for Manitoba Mayors: Municipalities will be the last level of Canadian government to get a slice of upcoming cannabis tax revenues. The Association of Manitoba Municipalities is using a new poll to call for their members to get a fair share.

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