Amnesty for pot possession needs a plan

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As we rapidly approach marijuana legalization, the government has yet to explain how they’ll tackle the organizational nightmare that comes with granting amnesty to those convicted of simple possession and other pot-related crimes. 

Tens of thousands of Canadians have criminal records due to convictions for pot possession. When legalization comes into effect, there will no longer be any reason to keep punishing those who were convicted of pot-related crimes in the years beforehand. 

In an editorial in The Toronto Star, the editorial board makes a case for offering amnesty to those convicted of pot possession. 17,733 people were charged with possession of pot in 2016 alone, and those charges will follow them throughout their lives without a pardon. 

Giving amnesty to those affected by marijuana laws before legalization makes sense. How and when that amnesty will come into effect is the more difficult part of the equation. 

Not only is the pardon system backlogged — it can take up to five years after conviction to apply — but it’s expensive. With a hefty fee of over $600, this process is currently inaccessible. If tens of thousands of people’s cases are simply diverted into the existing system, those pardons won’t be granted any time soon. 

There needs to be separate legislation in place to deal with the influx of amnesty-seekers after marijuana is legalized. The charge of simple possession of marijuana, for instance, should receive a blanket pardon. More complicated cases deserve longer thought, but when someone can be legally charged for possession of pot one day and not the next, they deserve some sort of retribution. 

Even if every person affected by the criminalization of marijuana were to receive a pardon, there would still be damage to deal with. After a conviction — even a simple possession charge — people’s lives change. They lose many opportunities they might have had if they didn’t have the conviction on their records. Legalization is set to bring Canada a lot of revenue when the government starts selling recreational marijuana to citizens. If they don’t divert at least some of those funds into rehabilitative programs to provide support for those previously convicted, they won’t be doing their due diligence. 

It would be unfair and irresponsible to make pot legalization a way of increasing national revenue without trying to reverse the damage the law has done to Canadian citizens. Before July 1 2018, the government needs to be prepared for a lot more than simply organizing who gets to sell what. Amnesty needs to be at the forefront of the legalization plan. It can’t be put on the backburner until it’s no longer a hot button issue. It needs to be dealt with now, and it needs to be done right. 

— Journal Editorial Board

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