More good news for Canadian cannabis enthusiasts: people suffering under the weight of a prohibition-era criminal record for simple cannabis possession can apply for a pardon starting today.
Normally, the application process costs $631 and includes significant waiting periods, but all of that has been waived. There’s also a streamlined application guide and forms with step-by-step instructions detailing the process.
“Starting today, individuals who were disproportionately impacted by cannabis laws of the past, including visible minorities, Indigenous people, and those in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods can finally shed the burden and stigma of that criminal record and have the ability to move forward positively in their lives,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
More than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for simply being in possession of cannabis, according to a 2014 study.
Statistics Canada said the numbers of Canadians convicted of pot possession offenses were down each year after Justin Trudeau announced his plans for legalization and regulation of cannabis, but 55,000 Canadians were still arrested for cannabis-related offenses in 2016 alone, and 41,800 of those were for possession.
The effects of a criminal record can’t be discounted. Even when someone has done their time and paid their debt to society, there are still some peripheral consequences associated with a criminal record. Essentially, a criminal record is a life sentence without a pardon.
Here are a few consequences listed by the John Howard Society:
- Someone who is not a Canadian citizen may be deported and denied re-entry to Canada after a conviction. Pending that deportation a person may be held in custody for very long periods of time, regardless of the length of the criminal sentence
You may have considerable difficulty gaining employment since many employers screen out those with criminal records
In many provinces, you are not able to serve on a jury
You will likely not be able to enter the United States, and may be prevented from entering other countries depending on the data that Canada exchanges with them or whether they ask about a criminal record on a traveller’s entry form
It may affect your access to minor children if you have them
It may prevent you from entering certain occupations or professions, or certain training programs.
And all of that’s on top of whatever persistent damage is done to your relationships with your family and friends.
Despite the good news, pardons carry limitations.
A pardon remains on your record for anyone running a criminal background check to find, therefore they would still have to check the “convicted of a criminal offence” box on an application for housing or employment.
It’s not an expungement, which scrubs the record clean by destroying all known government records of the offense. Afterwards, it’s as if person was never convicted of the crime.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction for people who’ve had their lives ruined for simply having pot on their person.