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Canadians With Cannabis Convictions Will Soon Be Eligible For Expedited Pardons

The federal government is celebrating Day One of cannabis legalization in Canada by offering pardons to certain drug offenders.

Until now, Canadians who have been convicted of simple marijuana possession could have faced fines up to C$1,000 and six months in jail. Then they would have to wait at least 5 years before being allowed to apply for a pardon through the Parole Board of Canada. But that is set to change as the federal government has announced plans to expedite the process for pardons.

So Canadian convicts won't have to wait 5 years to be apply anymore. However, getting a pardon won't be automatic. Instead, cannabis offenders will have to fill out an application form to be considered for a pardon. And they have to finish their sentences before being eligible to apply. Additionally, sources speaking to CTV have said the pardons will only be available to individuals charged with possession of 30 grams of cannabis or less.

The application process will be free, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who told reporters during a press conference earlier today in Ottawa that the federal government "hopes to make the process as simple as possible." But first, the new approach has to be approved by the House of Commons. Minister Goodale hopes to introduce the pardon legislation to parliament at the end of this year. He added that reworking the criminal justice system will be tricky as the feds need to get the provinces onboard with reform. 

If successful, the new legislation would help former convicts move on from their previous mistakes, but the federal government could do more to help them start over. Simply put, pardons are not as effective as expungements. A pardon basically forgives a previous offense in light of changing attitudes toward issues like cannabis. In contrast, an expungement seals court records, which basically means the former convict can carry on as thought the crime never happened.

Meanwhile, people who are currently awaiting trial for simple possession could still be sentenced, according to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who said the decision of whether or not to pursue those cases will be left up to prosecutors. 

This isn't the first time that the Canadian government has tried to help former convicts of crimes that have been scrubbed off the books. After Canada finally ended the criminalization of homosexuality, former convicts were offered expungements. But cannabis offenders don't deserve the same consideration, according to Minister Goodale, who said cannabis prohibition is "not of the same nature of the historical social injustice" that the LGBT community once faced. 

Although pardons aren't as effective as expungements, the government's new approach is certainly a step forward. And wider amnesty programs could be later implemented by local courthouses, and the federal program itself is liable to change moving forward. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself told reporters yesterday that the government will "be talking about that in the coming days and weeks."

Previously Trudeau has stated that he would not be considering any movement towards pardons or expungement of cannabis convictions until after legalization day. The lack of action on this issue has proven to be a point of contention for many activists. And while the promise to move ahead with some sort of program is encouraging, we will have to wait until the legislation is introduced to fully-evaluate the effectiveness of the new approach to pardons.



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