Canada has officially unveiled a new pardon system for those who have been charged with simple marijuana offenses.
The new system – which consists of online applications – was unveiled on Thursday by Justice Minister David Lametti, reports the CBC. The system is designed to “remove barriers to employment, housing, travel and volunteering opportunities for people who were convicted of simple possession before recreational cannabis use was made legal. ” Lametti said the announcement will help minorities who have been “disproportionately affected by cannabis laws.”
Lametti said Canadians can now apply for pardons through the Parole Board of Canada’s website. An online application is available and an email and toll-free number will help answer users’ questions. The new system eliminates the $631 fee and the lengthy wait times, the minister said.
A news release from the federal government said applicants are eligible even if they have outstanding fines or surcharges from their conviction, so long as they have completed the rest of their sentence. Non-Canadian citizens and residents are also eligible as long as the conviction was in Canada. The Parole Board of Canada is also working with police, courts, community groups and criminal justice professionals to generate awareness.
“The government estimates upwards of 250,000 Canadians have pot convictions, and the government suspects applications will be in the tens of thousands”, reports the CBC. “Bill C-93, which became law in July, waived the fee and the five-to-10-year wait period for applicants, but until today it was unclear how Canadians with cannabis convictions could apply for pardons.”
Simple possession refers to Canadians who possessed 30 grams of cannabis or less. Before legalization, people convicted of simple possession could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Jack Lloyd, a cannabis lawyer and advocate in Toronto, called Thursday’s announcement a laudable but small step that doesn’t address the “historical injustices” of simple possession. Lloyd said if the government wanted to help minorities, it should acknowledge in law it was wrong to criminalize cannabis possession and apologize publicly.
“All of the stigma associated with cannabis prohibition continues,” Lloyd said. “If their goal was to help [minorities], an expungement is how you do that. Not this tiny step.”
The federal NDP said it was “disappointed” in today’s announcement and said it will “keep fighting” for the expungement of criminal records.