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Criminal Records And The Legalization Of Marijuana

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For many Canadians, cannabis use is reportedly the most common drug used by the population. Consequently, today, as has historically been the case, the majority of drug related charges by police have involved cannabis use or possession.

In 2013, despite the decline in offences relating to other drugs, the number of cannabis offences increased by 8% and made-up 67% of all police reported drug offences. Of the 73,000 offences involving cannabis, 80% or 59,000 were possession related charges.

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The history of police reported cannabis charges have experienced many peaks and declines over the years – a reflection of the laws and legislations put in place that influence police practices. For example, in the 1980’s a decline in drug offences resulted from the enactment of the Charter or Rights and Freedoms. As a result of the act, citizens were now protected from unreasonable search and unlawful seizure from police, leading to a decline in drug related possession charges.

Over the last decade, Canadians have witnessed a crackdown on drug charges and more punitive sentencing due to tough on crime initiatives put forth by the previous Conservative government.

Today, the Liberal government – spear headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – have been promoting changes to many bills enacted by the previous governing body. At the forefront of this, has been the growing discussion surrounding the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.

To date, little has been presented in respects to the specifics of what decriminalization of cannabis would look like. However, the Canadian government has been closely monitoring other states in our neighbouring south that have legalized the substance.

Although many are anticipating the new laws surrounding cannabis use, some have been wondering what will happen to those who currently have offences involving cannabis use and possession of cannabis related charges.

Individuals who have been charged and convicted with a marijuana related offence – including possession – are subject to variety of fines and even incarceration. Once convicted, charges, as well as, sentences appear on a persons’ criminal record.

Having a criminal record can have a variety of repercussions on different aspects of someone’s life, such as education, volunteering, and employment opportunities, as well as travel freedom. A criminal record can hinder a person’s ability to find or advance in a job, as well as limit their education and volunteering opportunities. Further, a record can impact one’s ability to travel over the border into the United States, as well as live abroad.

All convictions will remain on their record until successfully receiving a record suspension – which restricts the accessibility of their record from the public, as well as various other agencies and organizations.

Since the Conservative government passed Bill C-10 in 2012, many changes have come to the record suspension (pardon) process – including increased ineligibility periods and costs.

Currently, an individual convicted of a summary conviction (including lesser possession charges) are required to wait five years after their sentencing is complete before being eligible to apply for a record suspension. More serious indictable offences on the other hand, require a wait period of 10 years before eligibility is granted.

However, the question on many individuals’ minds – which has yet to be significantly addressed – is what will happen to those individuals with convictions upon the legalization of marijuana. As this substance becomes legal or decriminalized it is important to recognize that if pardons and waivers are not granted, lives will continue to be negatively impacted regardless of the fact that the substance in question no longer carries legal penalties. Therefore, those who use the substance after it is decriminalized – within the parameters set out by the Liberal government – will not receive legal penalties.

Unfortunately, the government has yet to address these questions directly. When asked whether her government was planning on offering record suspensions for those with minor drugs offences, Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, vaguely responded explaining that many aspects of the legalization process must be considered and different levels of government must consulted.