The numbers are surprising. Over 600,000 Canadians have a criminal record for being convicted of marijuana possession.
- Possession charges are higher than those of all other drug-related charges combined
- More people are charged with possession than are charged with robbery
- Except impaired driving, possession charges outnumber all criminal code traffic violations
What do the numbers mean? A criminal record impairs the ability to find work, go to school and travel. A high tally of possession convictions means that a large number of Canadians, often young people and minorities from disadvantaged communities, have strike three against them before they even knew they were at bat.
In an article published in the Huffington Post, U.S. President Obama points out that marijuana possession is treated differently to other areas of substance abuse in the U.S. – and the same is true in Canada.
“What we have done is, instead of focusing on treatment the same way we focused, say, with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as public health problem, we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem,” said Obama. “I think that it’s been counterproductive, and it’s been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law, and that has to be changed.”
Canada Slowly Moving Toward Legislative Reforms
Marijuana legislation reforms are being enacted around the world. In the U.S., cannabis is legal in Colorado and Washington states, and similar laws are under consideration in many other states. Uruguay recently legalized marijuana, and in the state of South Australia, getting caught with up to 100 grams of pot gets you a maximum $100 fine.
In the 1960s, Canada jumped ahead on pot legalization reform after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau indicated his support for it. But we have since fallen woefully behind.
In 2012, the federal Conservatives actually cranked up penalties for some marijuana offences.
But, more recently, their tone has started to change. Early last year, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay outlined proposed changes to laws on possession, including making possession of small amounts of pot a non-criminal offence. And the move is supported by the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police.
But the proposed legislation has yet to be tabled. The Justice Minister blames a back log of justice bills for the delay.
Whether or not Canada reforms its pot possession laws in the near future, at least there is the sense that even the Conservative government realizes that, in the words of President Obama, “it’s counterproductive” to continue to criminalize large numbers of people for simple pot possession.
Canadians dealing with a criminal conviction for possession remain eligible to apply for a Pardon, also known as a Record Suspension.