08/01/2019 12:29 EDT | Updated 08/01/2019 16:27 EDT

Cannabis Pardons Begin In Canada With Thousands Eligible

The Liberals' legislation applies to people convicted of simple cannabis possession.

Canadians who’ve been convicted of possessing cannabis can now apply for an expedited pardon. 

Attorney General David Lametti announced Thursday the government will waive the $631 pardon application fee and five-year wait period. He estimates upwards of 250,000 people could be eligible. 

Once a pardon is granted, their criminal record for simple cannabis possession will no longer show up in most Canadian databases, including the one used by police and American border agents. 

The change will make it easier for these Canadians to work, go to school and travel, Lametti said.

“It’s the next logical step. People can finally shed the burden and stigma of that criminal record and move forward positively with their lives.”

A woman flashes the peace sign as she smokes marijuana during the annual 420 rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 20, 2019. 

Law experts and cannabis advocates have previously called for the government to use an expungement process, rather than pardons. With pardons, the person’s conviction can still be seen by some government agencies, and reinstated by a parole board or the next government. 

Expungement erases the conviction from all databases, forever. Governments typically use expungements to reverse historically unjust laws. For example, Canadians persecuted for homosexuality through convictions of gross indecency, buggery or anal intercourse are eligible for expungement

Lametti said pardons and expungements are “virtually identical.”

“Ultimately, we’re reserving the expungement process for situations that would’ve been covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. “In this case we’re moving forward with a system that’s efficient.” 

To Lametti’s knowledge, no one is currently sitting in jail for a simple cannabis possession conviction. Some people might be completing other parts of a sentence, such as community service. They’ll need to finish their sentences before applying for the pardon. They’ll also still be required to pay any related fines. 

Before legalization last year, Canadians were among the heaviest and youngest users of cannabis in the world, Lametti said. Organized crime made about $7 billion a year from the illegal cannabis trade, while law enforcement spent $2 billion a year cracking down on it. 

“One of the lingering consequences of the previous system is that it saddled many Canadians with criminal records and the people affected are disproportionately from minority communities, including Black and Indigenous Canadians,” he said. 

Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer said earlier this summer he supports the idea of people having cannabis-related records pardoned. 

The Parole Board of Canada has posted a guide and application form online.

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