Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting criticism on marijuana from an unlikely source: the backbench of his own party.
Ever since Trudeau's Liberals won the 2015 federal election while promising to legalize marijuana, advocates and activists have pressured the government to decriminalize cannabis. Canadians, they argue, shouldn't be going to jail for crimes that will soon be wiped from the record.
However, Trudeau has made it clear that his government will not decriminalize marijuana while the country works on legalizing it nationwide: "The laws haven't changed yet," he told told a Vancouver radio station earlier this month. "Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework." Bill Blair - who heads Trudeau's legalization task force - says that current laws must stay in place to protect communities and curb crime.
But Nathaniel Erskine-Smith - who represents the Toronto riding Beaches-East York says there's a way to achieve the purpose of decriminalization without having to decriminalize marijuana:
"The Justice Department has taken the position that the law is the law is the law. And that there aren't going to be interim efforts to decriminalize," Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told Civilized.
"I believe that it was unjust to criminalize the simple possession of marijuana....Pursuing criminal charges against responsible Canadian adults was unjust under the previous regime, and remains unjust now that we are looking to change that regime," says Erskine-Smith.
"Having said that, what I think would be reasonable as an alternative - if we're not going to pursue decriminalization - is there's discretion for the justice minister, under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, to at least issue a directive to crown council across the country to not prosecute simple marijuana possession charges. That would go a long way to effecting the same purpose [of decriminalization], not wasting public resources on what is not going to be a crime in short order, and yet still maintaining that the law remains what it is."
Proposal not an end to busts
So marijuana would remain illegal, but Canadians would not face jail time for simple possession charges. However, the move wouldn't put a stop to busts.
"Police would still do their jobs. But where police do arrest someone for simple possession, then the crown would have a directive from the justice minister that they are not to proceed with those charges," says Erskine-Smith.
The move would make law enforcement more fair. Erskine-Smith notes that most police officers are not busting people for simple possession, but some are. So the law of the land isn't being applied consistently in places like his own riding:
"There's a constituent in my riding," he told Civilized, "that was arrested for 10 grams of marijuana possession, no previous criminal record. And for whatever reason, counsel thinks it's a good decision to proceed to trial. And I just think that's the wrong decision for a matter of how we allocate public resources and also just morally."
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith knows that he has a long shot of convincing the Justice Minister to take action. But he is joining Canadian judges and lawyers who don't want to prosecute cases of simple marijuana possession anymore. For the Toronto MP, ending these cases is an important step toward righting the many wrongs of prohibition.
h/t News 1130
banner image: nerskine-smith.liberal.ca