California’s long march towards marijuana legalization has been characterized mostly as an economic boon. Legal cannabis sales to all adults 21 and over means a rapid expansion to an already huge $7 billion legal cannabis market — and yet another boom for the state that would be the world’s sixth-largest economy, were it an independent nation.
An independent nation like Canada, where the world’s biggest marijuana companies are all headquartered, so positioned because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to legalize cannabis is on schedule to be fulfilled this summer.
But ending the drug war in both California and Canada also has a social justice angle. For the thousands of people denied jobs, housing, and other benefits because of marijuana convictions, legalization means a return to normal. Since Election Day 2016, more than 4,500 former “offenders” have petitioned California courts to have their records wiped, their parole lifted — and, in some case, to be let out of prison early. As they should, as this was part of the deal all along.
“We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help — some way, somehow — repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,” as Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance, an early and key supporter of Prop. 64, told the Washington Post.
Aside from climate, diversity and the existence of 49 other states and a prohibitionist federal government, the major difference between Canada and California is that legalization came in Canada via a government push and not a voter initiative. Having Trudeau’s government recognize and license medical marijuana operations has been great for business — but what about the social justice, and the Canadians with cannabis crimes on their records?
Trudeau sees them and recognizes this is an issue, and promises that he’ll address it. Sometime. Eventually — after legalization happens first.
“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, where he spoke at a packed town-hall-style meeting on Jan. 12, according to the London Free Press.
“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 told reporters, when asked directly about an “amnesty program” for cannabis offenses, the newspaper reported.
While far less punitive than America, Canada’s justice system has still been unjust to drug offenders.
Medical marijuana has been available from companies licensed by Health Canada for several years, and beginning July 1, a network of stores selling to adults 21 and over will open to adults. In the meantime, in the country’s largest cities, businesses have openly broken the law, selling marijuana to adults with the full knowledge of police, lawmakers and the media.
For a time, life had settled into a predictable pattern: a pot shop would open, a pot shop would be raided. That same shop would re-open, a raid would come.
Trudeau has been promising to “take steps to look at what we can do for those folks who have criminal records for something that will no longer be criminal” in a “thoughtful way” since last year. If that sounds vague, it is — but as the Global News reported, the politician’s ambiguity isn’t all Trudeau’s fault.
Criminal records are kept by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which maintains a national database. As the News noted, “in theory, [Trudeau] should be able to erase Canadians’ records for marijuana possession just by telling the programmers to do it.”
But it’s not quite so easy on the paper-pushers as that. Marijuana-related offenses are sometimes classified in the same category as offenses for other drugs. Sometimes the police note what the drug was — and sometimes they don’t. Someone busted with a small amount of pot can be docked with a marijuana-specific crime — or a second violation that’s a “generic” drug-related offense.
“That means that erasing marijuana possession (or trafficking) records could turn into a painstaking, manual process, involving searches in court and police archives across the country,” the News reported.
This sounds mostly like a bureaucratic problem, something that the record-keepers should recognize and fix. It’s also a key component of legalization, and one Canada needs to make sure it includes sooner rather than later.
TELL US, do you think Canada should give amnesty to cannabis offenders?