Canada inches closer to legalization without addressing pot-related arrests

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A new petition is demanding the government includes criminal justice reform in its legalization plans.

As Canada gets closer to legalizing recreational marijuana, drug policy advocates are fighting to ensure that criminal justice reform doesn’t get left behind. Now, a new petition is circulating from Cannabis Amnesty, a justice reform group that wants there to be more language addressing pardons for people with weed-related criminal records.

“The present government has indicated that it is open to blanket pardons for cannabis-possession offenses in the future,” says the petition, which as of this writing has 1,844 signatures out of the 6,000 required, “but the people who have already been harmed by prohibition will continue to suffer until amnesty legislation is passed. Righting this historical wrong should not merely be an afterthought.”

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The Canadian government has said it is considering pardons in the past, but with the countdown to legal weed closing in, the language about it hasn’t budged. As the Guardian reports, this may simply be because of an administrative oversight by the Canadian government. While many people in Canada have been arrested for possessing cannabis, including 15,000 since Justin Trudeau’s election, criminal records do not always specify which drug a person is arrested for. 

This means if there is going to be amnesty, it will require police officers to comb through records to flag weed-specific charges. It is estimated there are around half a million Canadians with pot-related charges on their criminal records. While there is a system in place to petition a single criminal record, it requires a fee and a waiting period of five years.

A number of U.S. cities and states have begun in recent months to take steps toward clearing pot-related offenses. California and Oregon both passed laws that allow for the expungement of minor cannabis crimes that occurred prior to recreational legalization. The Massachusetts governor signed a similar bill in April.

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