Amnesty for all cannabis offences, compensation, and an apology

Toronto lawyer, Annamarie Enenajor, has launched Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty which is seeking amnesty for cannabis simple possession charges.  She wants it to be an election issue.  I applaud Ms. Enenajor’s efforts, but the federal government should be going further.  The federal government should pardon all cannabis offences.  Growers and sellers should not have criminal convictions and medical growers and sellers should definitely not have convictions particularly when one considers the various constitutionally deficient versions of the government’s previous medical regimes.

The federal government should compensate those jailed for growing and selling cannabis.  Jail causes catastrophic harm to the person.  It also damages the family and the community.  Sometimes jail is necessary, but not for cannabis offences.  Of course, growers and sellers continue to face the most extreme consequences of prohibition.  In fact many Harper-era mandatory minimum jail sentences remain on the books.  Urgent action is required.

The federal government and the provincial government should compensate growers and sellers for all the property forfeitures.  Growers have lost their homes because they grew plants inside or outside in their yard.  Growers and sellers have had their vehicles taken away and their bank accounts seized.

The federal government should make it easier for the victims of prohibition to participate in the legal industry.  In Canada, having been a victim of cannabis prohibition means one is further victimized by being excluded from the new industry where the ubiquitous security clearance requirement excludes those with cannabis offences or with involvement in the pre-legalization cannabis industry.  Health Canada’s consultation on their proposed changes to the regulation of cannabis showed a toddler step in the right direction:

“The consultation paper acknowledged that there are individuals who have histories of non-violent, lower-risk criminal activity with cannabis (e.g. simple possession of cannabis or smaller-scale cultivation of cannabis plants) who may seek to obtain a security clearance so they can participate in the legal cannabis industry. The consultation paper asked stakeholders whether they felt these individuals should be permitted to hold a security clearance and participate in the legal cannabis industry.”

The City of Oakland has reserved 50% of their medical cannabis business permits for people affected by the war on drugs.  These equity permits are available to Oakland residents arrested in Oakland for a cannabis offence since 1996.  Residents are also eligible for the permits if they have lived for 10 of the last 20 years in neighbourhoods ravaged by prohibition and their income must be 80% of the city’s average median income.  The city is also setting aside money to offer no-interest loans and other assistance to help equity permit holders open their business.  Oakland is also giving preferential treatment to equity incubators who have provided free rent for cannabis businesses for at least three years.  San Francisco has a similar policy.

Finally, the federal government should apologize for the many wrongs caused by cannabis prohibition.  Cannabis prohibition began in 1923 (14 years before the US prohibition) with no debate, discussion or reports.  It was the product of racist hysteria not founded in science.  Every time the federal government studied the matter the conclusion was the same: cannabis is a mild substance of low toxicity with many health benefits.  The Le Dain Commission, in 1972, recommended decriminalization.  The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs concluded in 2002 that the prohibition on cannabis does more harm than the substance itself.  Still, the criminal prohibition continued.  Beginning in the 1990s, every time a cannabis patient came to court seeking access to medical cannabis, the federal government fought the patient.  The only reason there is a medical regime is because the courts forced the government to act.  For almost one hundred years, the government has embraced a destructive prohibition not founded in reason.  It is time to apologize.