By Raneem Alozzi and Lidia Abraha
Canada is now the second country to decriminalize cannabis and permit its regulated possession and trade. But aside from introducing new punishable cannabis offences to form regulations, Bill C-45 fails to address holes that leave many marginalized users vulnerable to being criminalized.
Amnesty in Canada was also not mandated as part of the legalization process because the RCMP’s criminal recording system doesn’t distinguish between minor and major offences—making an instantaneous blanket decision near impossible.
But on the day of legalization, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the Liberal government won’t charge a processing fee to those who apply for a pardon for their former cannabis possession charges. They also won’t be required to go through a waiting period.
According to Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty (CCA), nearly 500,000 Canadians are charged for minor pot possessions. Tyler James, community outreach director for CCA, said they are looking to partner with schools and universities to create a greater awareness.
James has been in contact with chapters of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) to find ways to work and support each other. Over the summer, Ryerson’s CSSDP chapter was declined official group status, a decision the group will appeal later this month.
Trina Fraser, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in cannabis, said after considering who qualifies for the erasure of a criminal record, we need to mitigate the impact it has on previously targeted individuals.
According to a 2017 Toronto Star analysis, Black people with no criminal history are still three times more likely to get charged for cannabis possession than white people.
“We need to make sure that we are building a regulatory framework on both the federal and provincial levels that is inclusive for [marginalized] people,” said Fraser.
On Oct. 3, Murray Rankin, a New Democrat MP, introduced a bill that would clear records of Canadians charged with minor and non-violent cannabis possessions. Fraser said its intention would apply to convictions involving amounts that are now legalized, unless the charges involve illegal production, trafficking and distribution. She believes that one day, we’ll get there, noting this topic could play a big role in the 2019 federal election.
When *Macy and her friend were travelling to New York, the fourth-year Ryerson English student wasn’t prepared for an interrogation at the U.S. border.
There was a stench coming from the car, because of the ounce of weed they had earlier in the week. Border patrol instantly assumed Macy was smuggling cannabis across the border. “As soon as we were told to get out of the car, I felt myself go into shock,” she said, adding they were questioned for half an hour, while their car was searched.
“We need to make sure that we are building a regulatory framework on both the federal and provincial levels that is inclusive for [marginalized] people”
Macy, who is Mexican and visibly racialized, was worried she’d be put under harsh scrutiny, because of what was happening at the southern U.S. border to families seeking asylum. Although Macy was eventually let go and permitted to enter the U.S., the experience left a mark on the student, like it soon will for many others.
Earlier this fall, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said they’re banning all Canadians involved with cannabis in any way. The CBP went on to change their stance, after “[investors were] upset that they can’t travel to their fancy second house down in the warm southern states,” said Jodie Emery, a cannabis activist and store owner. “So they made a big fuss… because they’re rich and well-connected.”
Canadians who are affiliated with businesses in the flourishing cannabis industry will now be allowed in. But cannabis users who have a record of legally purchasing through Ontario’s Online Stores will still be barred from the border as “drug abusers.”
When police pulled up to the scene, *Claire and her friends were simply enjoying a joint, while their grinder and some extra Js were laid out in front of them.
The cops asked Clair if she had more weed. Unaware of her rights as a 15-year-old, she didn’t know she could deny them from searching her. So without further warning, the cop dumped her bag’s belongings to the ground. Luckily, Claire didn’t have any more weed with her.
“A lot of exceptional students use cannabis… but the stigma against them and the criminal law enforcement risks make them second-class citizens,” said Emery.
As for navigating a world post-legalization, James said students need to be aware of the rules, such as being 19 to possess in Ontario, or adhering to the 30-gram limit for public possession.
For visibly racialized students, things may not be so easy. In the state of Colorado, where recreational weed is also legalized, Latinx and Black youth arrests rose by 20 and 50 per cent, respectively, after legalization according to a survey by the state’s health department. To help youth understand the new implications that come with legal cannabis, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) said they’re distributing resources and working alongside Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Education to develop the curriculum.
Measures like these should help students like Claire. While she managed to get by with a warning and a lecture, her friend would find himself in a similar situation. In his senior year, after an acceptance to the University of Laurier, he got a criminal record for cannabis possession. His university acceptance was later repealed, which prevented him from pursuing post-secondary schooling.
*Original names were changed
*This article was updated Oct. 17 to include news that the Liberal government intends to issue a pardon, not amnesty or record clearance, for users who have been previously charged with possession of under 30 grams. The legislation, which will be finalized before the end of 2018, will require no waiting time or fee to pay.