The idea of possession pardons has been floated ever since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize marijuana. The Liberal government is set to reveal its bill to legalize recreational marijuana next spring. However, there is no word on whether there will be a free or simplified pardon for those with records.
Why possession pardons?
A criminal record can hold people back in many areas of life from educational programs and career to travel and volunteering. Although people with marijuana convictions qualify for pardons, usually after five years, this is a lengthy process and there are many fees associated with it. Meanwhile, life gets harder for people with records. These days, most employers ask for criminal record check. As well, people with marijuana convictions cannot enter the United States without a waiver.
Combine this with the fact that many of the people arrested are in their late teens and early twenties. This means they have their whole adult lives to struggle with the negative effects of a record.
Despite the government’s goals, people continue to be arrested for possession. Almost 20,000 people per year are charged with possession and 40-50 per cent are convicted. Many people have called on the government to decriminalize marijuana immediately. (Decriminalization means removing possession from the Criminal Code, and then either levelling non-criminal fines or not enforcing any sanctions.) However, the government has been staunchly opposed to this course of action. In fact, there have been a couple of high profile raids on marijuana dispensaries in Canada recently with arrests made.
Without decriminalization people who use marijuana will continue to be arrested, and then have to wait several years after marijuana is legalized to apply for a pardon.
What are the effects of a criminal record?
A person convicted of a summary offense (possession of under 30 grams of marijuana) cannot apply for a pardon, which is called Record Suspension, until five years after they complete their sentence. The application itself takes six months to be processed by the Parole Board of Canada. Larger amounts can sometimes, but not always, be tried as indictable, which attracts a 10 year wait period.
Even if a person does go through the process of obtaining a Record Suspension, they can still be barred from entering the United States. This means they would have to get a US Entry Waiver. Obtaining a US Entry Waiver is similar in time and complexity to obtaining a Record Suspension. Unlike a Record Suspension, it is not permanent and has to be renewed anywhere from one to five years later.
What does it all mean?
The Liberal government’s rejection of calls for decriminalization prior to legalization, doesn’t bode well for the issue of pot pardons. As well, the government has been mostly silent on the issue.
The government appointed a task force committee to study the issue of legalization. Their recommendations, released last fall, acknowledge the effect of criminal records on individuals, but mostly in the context of what will happen after legalization. There is no talk of pardoning past offences.
Justin Trudeau has been questioned in the House of Commons about the issue of possession pardons, but mostly deflected the issue without a clear answer.
Some people say possession pardons would free up time and money that could be spent on more important cases or on implementing the legislation. Others say that many people who have been convicted of marijuana possession have actually been charged with more serious offences, but made deals in exchange for lesser penalties. Thus, the government would actually be pardoning trafficking or other more serious offences.
Trudeau says decriminalization is off the table because it would help put money in the hands of criminals who could use it for harder drugs and weapons.
The indication seems to be that possession pardons are either not a big priority or are actively opposed by the government. Unless there is a lot of public movement demanding the government to act on this issue, it seems that getting pot pardons into the final legislation will be a long shot.
If you are eligible for a pardon, don’t wait to get your life back on track. Call us today for a free consultation at 1-866-972-7366.