UTM's The Medium: Dr. Owusu-Bempah Discusses Issues Before and After Cannabis Legalization

December 13, 2018 by Kate Paik

The Medium, UTM's student newspaper, recently published a discussion featuring Dr. Owusu-Bempah discussing  cannabis prior to, and following, legalization. In the article, he describes cannabis as a “gateway drug – not a gateway to harder drug use as is often thought of, but a gateway into the criminal justice system.” For the most part, cannabis-users who were arrested before legalization would be convicted for a “non-custodial sentence,” which includes probation or community service. This conviction would still appear on the individual’s criminal record and “become known to the police.” If the same individual is charged for any other offence, the cannabis possession conviction would then “reflect negatively and drop them further into the justice system.”

Dr. Owusu-Bempah is an assistant professor of sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM camps. His research is focused on three main areas: Policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race. He is particularly interested in how people of the African Diaspora (African Canadians, African Americans) perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment. His research has recently been published in the scholarly journals Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology.

An excerpt of the article is included below:

Passionate about “providing amnesty for those who have cannabis convictions,” Owusu-Bempah explains how the “lives of the 500,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for cannabis conviction have been damaged.” These people “have a harder time finishing their education, securing meaningful employment, securing housing, and also travelling.” Owusu-Bempah is currently “working to have the government erase [their] criminal records”—as the crime is no longer illegal—and he believes that “we should be making sure that those people are able to get jobs in the legal cannabis industry.” Additionally, he wants “the government [to] put a certain amount of money that they get from cannabis sales taxes back into the communities that were most policed.”

When asked about illegal methods of obtaining marijuana, Owusu-Bempah provides a realistic answer, “for now, a black market is going to remain.”

For individuals who do not have online methods of payment to purchase cannabis online in Ontario, those who “might not want to wait for their product to arrive in the mail,” or those who “might be skeptical of the government,” they may find previous illegal sources as more convenient or appealing. However, Owusu-Bempah is hopeful that “ultimately, as legalization progresses, more and more [illegal dealers] will be put out of business."

The full article can be found here.