The Canadian federal government took a much-needed step towards rectifying past Drug War injustices on Thursday when it announced that a new no-cost system with vastly expedited wait times will take effect immediately for individuals with cannabis possession-related offenses of under 30 grams.
Attorney General David Lametti says that the new pardon process will be “almost instantaneous.”
A 2014 study estimated that over 500,000 Canadians had such marijuana-related offenses on their records. 41,800 individuals were arrested for cannabis possession in 2016 alone. Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair estimated that 70,000 to 80,000 Canadians would be eligible for pardons under the new system — but on Thursday, Lametti expanded that prediction to more than 250,000 people.
The government was aware that the restitution of past criminal records would be a big part of cannabis legalization, particularly since the legal system penalized people of color at rates far higher than Canada’s white population.
“We know that this is particularly significant for many in minority communities, including black and Indigenous Canadians who have been disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis laws,” said Lametti
Previous to the passage of Bill C-93, Canadians had to go through a process of asking for the pardon of a past crime that involved paying a $631 fee to a parole board, and having to wait five to 10 years after the so-called crime was committed to begin proceedings. The new legislation removes the requirement for supplying pertinent court documents to the parole board as long as the crime in question did not involve other controlled substances.
The government has set up resources to help people navigate the new system with a website, phone line, and email address. Non-residents who have cannabis charges in Canada will also be eligible for the expedited pardons.
But not everyone is celebrating the plan. There is a big difference between pardons and expungement — the former says that a crime has been forgiven, while the latter acknowledges that a past law was wrong, and no crime was actually committed in the first place.
In particular, some are concerned with whether the pardons will enable Canadians to travel to the United States, since the past crime will still be visible on their records. The Canadian government tried to defuse these worries by saying that expungements may not accomplish safe passage to the States either:
“Any foreign country, including the United States, may have documented previous interactions with individuals, which may include an individual’s Canadian criminal conviction information prior to a pardon being granted,” says the Health Canada website. “When required by foreign border officials, these individuals will be able to provide the required documentation to demonstrate that their conviction has been pardoned.”
Bill C-93 was passed by the Senate in June, and waited until now to get the royal assent it needed to be signed into law. Canada’s government has been hyping the plan since last fall, before it had even crafted the legislation that it would take to get such a plan legalized.