Will Marijuana Convicts Be Expunged Or Pardoned?

Now that marijuana is legal in Canada, one wonders what will happen to all of the people who have suffered under the drug laws over the last century.

Expungement Or Pardon?

According to a report from BBC.com, Canadians convicted of possessing marijuana before the government finally legalized it will receive a pardon. However, the conviction will still exist on their record, but won’t count as an official crime.

This means that some of these individuals still have the stain on their record, the result of which is a decreased chance of getting a job, difficulties traveling, as well as purchasing homes.

There are several politicians who argue that a mere pardon isn’t enough, and vouch for, instead, a total expungement of their record. In layman’s terms, this means the government totally erases the crime from that person’s record.

A politician who recently spoke with Radio 1 Newsbeat, Guy Caron, said that we should work to “remove the stain that is on the record,” in reference to all those affected.

Currently, Guy’s New Democratic Party holds approximately 12% of the seats in the Canadian parliament, and they supported the government’s decision to finally legalize marijuana.

A pardon affects those who were convicted of carrying 30 grams or less of marijuana, but won’t affect those who were either supplying large quantities or driving while intoxicated.

Trudeau Says Expungement Is Only For Unconstitutional Convictions

According to Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, and also the Prime Minister of Canada, expungement is only meant for laws that are unconstitutional.

For instance, the Canadian government expunged LGBT people who were convicted of gay sex crimes at a time when it was illegal in Canada. The Canadian government has since apologized for their treatment of the LGBT community across the last century-and-a-half.

Karen McCrimmon, a Canadian member of Parliament, declared there should be a push for the pardoning process to take months rather than several years.

In many cases, marijuana possession, Guy Caron argues, was a tool for the police and the government to punish “marginalized” communities, including LGBT people as well as aboriginal people.

Throughout history, native Canadians and other ethnic minorities have been persecuted more than other groups, despite their consumption habits being similar to the rest of the population.

However, one could argue that Canadians who aren’t punished as much for the crime, are merely better at hiding it, and avoiding problematic encounters with the police.

Ever since Marijuana was officially legalized across Canada, the industry must now prove that the product is legitimate to both consumers as well as possible investors.

All across Canada, people celebrated the legalization of cannabis through smoking rituals and people lining up down the block to be the first individuals to buy legal weed.

The very first days of legal marijuana saw challenges like not being able to supply the huge demand, whose market down the line is nearly impossible to predict.

The Globe and Mail reported that retail stores all across Canadian provinces ran out of stock on Weed Wednesday, and provincial online sites weren’t able to keep up with the number of orders.

Interestingly, one wonders Canadians who were punished severely for Marijuana-crimes are handling this situation.

In Colorado, for instance, the governor recently pardoned 9 individuals convicted of cannabis-related offenses.

Canadian Government Legalized Marijuana On The 17th Of October

It was three years ago when Justin Trudeau announced they had passed C-45, the Cannabis Act, making marijuana officially legal on the 17th of October.

While it’s amazing that Canada finally managed to legalize a relatively less-harmful substance, those who have been punished by the legal system for marijuana possession are in an unfortunate position.

According to Macleans, there are 500,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for acquiring this now-legal substance. This means that the government has to act to pardon all of those who have suffered under the law.

Ralph Goodale, the Public Safety Minister, said that reversing a “legal regime that has existed for nearly a century,” would be a challenge, and many steps have to be taken.

“It’s a process,” he remarked. At the moment, Canadians who are seeking a pardon for their crimes have to endure a waiting period as well as a fee, but the Liberal government is working to reverse that.

After all, it isn’t fair to Canadians to make them wait – and pay – for a problem that, essentially, the government has created.

Goodale added that he and the rest of the government hope to have the bill presented before the House Of Commons by the end of 2018.

Following the legalization of marijuana, a team of defense attorneys, marijuana advocates, and other politicians began an attempt to convince political leaders to create a massive amnesty plan for old pot possession charges.

Reportedly, last year, 13,800 Canadians were charged with pot possession and other marijuana-related crimes. And, the data suggests marijuana use doesn’t vary much across racial and ethnic groups.

However, the result of these laws has seen a disproportionate effect on people of color as well as marginalized communities, like the LGBT community.

Vice News claims that last year, indigenous people in Regina, Saskatchewan, were 9x more likely to face charges for pot possession in comparison to white people, and in Halifax, black people were five times more likely.

And in 2017, the Toronto Star found black people to be three times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people. However, the data doesn’t explain if it has something to do with behavioral patterns, rather than “biased policing.”

Regardless, the consequences for a record of this nature is long-lasting and deleterious, from job applications, background checks for volunteer positions, as well as for applications for renting apartments.

Shortly before the announcement on Wednesday, NDP member Murray Ranking introduced a bill, C-415, dedicated to lessening the effects of a crime that no longer exists.

Expungements And Pardons

The bill was similar to C-66, the bill passed in June that expunges the records of those convicted for offenses related to same-sex relationships. An expungement and a pardon are different.

Expungement means removing the record all together, whereas, a pardon is still on the record but it’s essentially forgiven.

An expunged record means that a person could tell their landlord or their boss that they don’t have a criminal record following an expungement.

With a pardon, you would still have to say that you have a criminal record, it just has been swept under the rug, so to speak. The government believes that pardons will be a lot cheaper for Canadian tax-payers than expungement.

Moreover, a marijuana offense isn’t that serious of a crime. Expungements are typically used for more severe crimes, like Charter rights violations and other infringements on human rights.

John Conroy, a criminal lawyer in Abbotsford, British Colombia, said that the problem is the digital record. And it either has to be an expungement, or nothing at all, because a pardon won’t be nearly as effective.

He told Macleans that he had one client who wasn’t able to get a security clearance due to marijuana-related offenses, even though he had been pardoned for them.

In reality, it takes a long time for some of these systems to get updated information, and prior criminal convictions will still sit on a person’s record, even though, officially, it was long dealt with.

Macleans claims that criminal defense attorneys and other activists believe that the government has used marijuana as a way of getting involved with marginalized communities.

In California, the government introduced a part of their law that allowed people to apply to have their records expunged. It is the state’s responsibility to find those individuals and wipe their records clean.

Other cities have done similar things, including San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco. As you may already know, marijuana has been legal in Washington State for the last six years.

One person, Jeff, who spoke with Macleans said the legalization of marijuana was irritating because now politicians and the police will benefit from this incredibly lucrative industry, for which the citizens were previously punished.

The result of the charges levied against him has brought difficulties into his life, including not being able to get certain kinds of jobs.

For example, it’s easy for him to work construction, but not easy for him to get a job with an oil patch company because he can’t get past the security clearance.

“It annoys me that people are profiting from it,” and he now still has a criminal record that negatively affects his life. He feels as though he’s going to be punished for the rest of his life.

Interestingly, Macleans claims that a former police chief in Canada previously compared marijuana crimes to “murder,” and that same person is now the head of a multi-million-dollar marijuana company.

It’s unfortunate that those who were vehemently against the industry, are now the ones profiting from it the most.

Another reader who wrote into Ataraxik explained his story, “When I was 17 or 18 years old, I was with my friends and we were on our way to a party. When the police pulled us over for, what I believed was a ride check, I got in trouble because one of my friends had alcohol in the back seat.”

“As a result of that, the police now had the right to search the vehicle, and they found a pipe with marijuana resin in it. After they got the lab results back, I was charged with possession.”

A lot of people in Canada have faced serious repercussions in their life as a result of minor marijuana-related offenses. Expungement is probably the only appropriate course of action for Canadians, otherwise, those who have been convicted in the past will suffer for forever.


1)The Globe and Mail 

2) BBC

3) Macleans

4) The Cannabist 

image sources

  • Marijuana: Flickr.com

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