Date for Pot Legalization Fast Approaching

With the date for marijuana legalization approaching, what will it mean for convicted Canadians?

By Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer

As one of the Trudeau government’s most popular campaign promises, the legalization of marijuana in Canada is now only six months away from its deadline. Though the federal legislation has decriminalized cannabis, the method for the regulation of the substance has been left for each province to decide. The Trudeau government has been unclear in their intentions as to the specifics of what the provinces will be able to legislate and as to what matters will remain up to federal jurisdiction.

Despite these ambiguities, several provinces, including Ontario, have already put forward their proposed plans to regulate this newly legalized substance. Ontario, in particular, has chosen a system similar to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to regulate cannabis, while other provinces have chosen to license private retailers.

However, another major topic of conversation around marijuana decriminalization has been focused around those who have already been convicted of the crime of possessing or selling marijuana. Cannabis has been illegal in Canada since 1923, and thousands of Canadians have been charged and convicted in accordance of these laws for nearly a century. What will happen to the people who currently face charges, fines, or prison sentences for possession of marijuana now that the substance has been decriminalized?

Prime Minister Trudeau has hinted at possible amnesty for Canadians convicted on marijuana-related charges. According to a statement made at a government forum in April of last year, “[the federal government] is taking the time necessary to get [marijuana decriminalization] right. Then we will move forward in a thoughtful way on fixing past wrongs that happened because of this erroneous law that I didn’t put in place and that I’m working hard to fix.”

So, for the millions of Canadians facing marijuana-related charges, a chance at amnesty appears to be on the table – however, it is unclear if reparations would apply to those who have been convicted for trafficking marijuana, or only to those charged with possession. Due to the sheer volume of Canadians who have been charged with marijuana-related offences in the last five years, clarification of this issue remains anxiously awaited.

Furthermore, cannabis-related charges, even if they are dropped in Canada, will still be visible upon a border inspection at the U.S./Canadian border. As it currently stands, simply having admitted to using marijuana at any point in your life can get you barred from entering the United States, even if a person does not have a criminal record. Waivers for border entry can be purchased, but these passes are temporary, many lasting only for a few years, and can cost up to a thousand dollars in price.

The federal government has insisted that the decriminalization of marijuana should be carried out along with a strong government regulatory body. Trudeau has stated that “if we decriminalize possession [of marijuana] but [fail to create] a legal framework for producing it, then it’s still going to be organized crime producing it — the Hells Angels, street gangs controlling the sale of marijuana.” The government’s position clearly favours control of the substance, and likely looks to access the revenue from taxing government-subsidized marijuana dispensaries and distributors.

There is great pressure for a decisive decision from the government in order to put much of the uncertainty surrounding decriminalization to rest before July rolls around – the lives and futures of many Canadians may depend on it. Hopefully, the criticisms levied by the people of Canada to our governing bodies will be taken into consideration when the time comes for this bill to be implemented.