Marijuana Possession Amnesty Pitfall

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Justin Trudeau’s move to end the drug war in Canada could create a social justice legacy for him as well. He has hinted at amnesty for marijuana possession convictions but says not before recreational cannabis is legal.

Why should thousands of Canadians suffer by having criminal records—along with potential issues getting jobs, housing, and crossing the U.S. border—for doing something that’s no longer illegal? Over 17,000 people were charged with cannabis possession in 2016. Amnesty for them and others charged throughout the prohibition era could mean a return to normal.

“Once the law is changed, we will, of course, reflect on fairness, and what is responsible moving forward,” Trudeau said during a news conference in London, Ontario on January 12.

“We know that the current legislation is hurting Canadians and criminalizing Canadians who it perhaps shouldn’t be, but that is an engagement we will take once we have a legalized and controlled regime in place, not before,” Trudeau later told reporters when asked about a marijuana amnesty program.

 

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Criminal records are maintained in a national database by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In theory, the Prime Minister’s office should be able to erase Canadian criminal records for marijuana possession just by telling the programmers to do it. However, the structure of the RCMP’s national criminal record databases makes it difficult to sort records related to marijuana from those relating to other drugs.

Canadian police forces can enter the type of drug someone is charged with possessing into RCMP data, but it’s not required and is often not done. Small possession can go under one of two sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, one stating that the drug is marijuana and one which is generic.

This could make erasing marijuana possession records a painstaking, manual process that involves scouring through court and police archives.

February 8, 2018

by Alana Armstrong

Profile photo of Alana Armstrong
Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.

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