When you can expect pot pardons in Canada

Published Apr 3, 2019 01:40 p.m. ET
Canadian Press, Patrick Doyle

With legal marijuana now available right across Canada, many are wondering if those who were charged for the possession of cannabis will be officially off the hook. The current process that Canadians must go through to obtain a pardon for past crimes generally comes with a $650 filing fee, and the wait times are long and arduous, ranging anywhere from five to ten years for approval. Luckily, the Liberals have put the wheels in motion by introducing a new bill that is meant to help those who are struggling to obtain housing, employment, or travel permissions by removing the barrier that is a criminal record.

What is Bill C-93?

The bill was brought forth in the House of Commons on Friday, March 1, 2019, by the Liberal government and it included some new amendment suggestions to improve upon the laws that were put in place with bill C-45 aka The Cannabis Act last fall. Some of its contents included several amends to the Criminal Record Act including free and fast-tracked pardons for anyone who had been charged before marijuana legalization with possession or other minor weed related offences.

Who does this help?

There are an estimated 400 000 Canadian citizens that currently have criminal records for possession of cannabis. The new bill is expected to help between 70 000 and 80 000 people who would be eligible to apply as long as the bill passes. This is because there are limits set as to what would be considered minor charges, which align with current rules and regulations allowing for personal possession of up to 30 grams. Unlicensed sales and above limit cultivation of cannabis are still not permitted under law, and therefore would not be eligible for a pardon.

Political opinions on Bill C-93

The Liberals sound optimistic at the possibility of potential change in the quality of life for the people they are willing to pardon, but the NDP hold a different opinion on the legislation saying that it isn’t enough. What the Liberal party is offering is merely a record suspension and not an erasing of the crime. Though there are certain basic record checks that the charges would disappear from, they would always continue to exist within a separate accessible file for the government to keep track of and would still be maintained on smaller databases that may affect employment. The NDP party is suggesting complete expungements instead which would completely erase all records of these charges. They have also said that they don’t believe that excusing mere possession charges is enough and that each case should be considered on an individual basis taking into account the severity or possible criminal elements before deciding.

The reason cited for such restriction on pardons is that statistically there is more often a potentially dangerous criminal element in cases that contain anything beyond minor possession offences, but legal marijuana activists are saying that the black and grey market dealers were necessary for access, often even for medicinal patients who had no other options during prohibition. Though the two sides remain on opposing sides of the argument, one thing does seem to resonate between them, and that is the fact that there is some correcting that needs to be done ASAP to help people, especially those who have been unfairly targeted based on race move on with their lives in the quickest possible way.  

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