Professor Owusu-Bempah is a professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. His research focuses on policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race ethnicity and crime. The Hill Times is an independently owned weekly news publication based in Ottawa that reports on Canadian politics and government processes.
We have posted an excerpt of the article below.
Cannabis legalization in Canada: the case for pardons and preferential licensing
This law, and many that followed, had a considerable negative impact on the very groups that their proponents so often purported to help. At a time when Canada once again stands at the forefront of international drug law, we should set an example to the world by providing redress for the harms we now know we have inflicted.
AKWASI OWUSU-BEMPAH | Monday, Jan. 22, 2018
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proposed date for legalizing the recreational use of cannabis is fast approaching and the Senate is debating Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. Given the social harms associated with drug prohibition, legalization cannot come soon enough. We also need to go further and right past wrongs by pardoning those convicted of minor cannabis offences and by giving preference to those most targeted by Canada’s war on drugs when we issue cultivation and distribution licences.
Although unrecognized by many, the policing of cannabis and other drugs has been a priority for Canadian law enforcement agencies. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian police agencies recorded approximately 109,000 offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) in 2013, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are readily available. Of these, about 73,000 were cannabis-related cases and 59,000 were for possession. While many of these cases were cleared through police discretion (i.e. not taken to court), the number of people tried for simple possession was significant. Between 2008 and 2009 and 2011 and 2012, cannabis possession accounted for approximately 59,000 adult and 14,000 youth cases completed in our courts. Of these, 25,000 adults and almost 6,000 youth were found guilty. So, in less than half the time our prime minister has held office, more than 30,000 Canadians were branded with the marker of a criminal record for a “crime” committed by a significant proportion of the Canadian public, including Justin Trudeau when he sat as MP.
Unfortunately, these 30,000 people joined a lengthy list of Canadians who, like them, face difficulties travelling overseas, volunteering at their local schools and finding meaningful employment due to minor cannabis offences. We are legalizing the drug in part for this very reason; we acknowledge the harms caused by its current illegality. As we move towards legalization we should not forget those who have already been affected. Former Toronto police chief and current Liberal drug czar, Bill Blair, has himself pointed out these people are more likely to be drawn from the young, impoverished, and otherwise marginalized—the very people that we should be trying to better incorporate into our society, not working to exclude from it.
So how can we rectify this? By pardoning the convicted and providing opportunities for those personally affected by the war on drugs, as well as members of their communities, to benefit from a burgeoning industry.