Canada was the first G-7 nation to pass a nationwide adult-use cannabis legalization measure, which occurred just over four years ago. To-date Canada still serves as the only national adult-use cannabis market where anyone of legal age can purchase products beyond the low-THC variety.
Only two other nations have passed national legalization measures, with Uruguay having done so years before Canada, and Malta having done so late last year. Unlike Canada, Uruguay limits legal adult-use cannabis purchases to residents only, and Malta does not currently allow for-profit sales to anyone.
One area where Canada’s legalization model is clearly lacking is when it comes to pardons. United States President Joe Biden recently announced that he will be pardoning anyone convicted of a federal cannabis possession charge, and that has ramped up calls in Canada for the government at all levels to do the same.
Leading up to legalization in 2018 in Canada there was strong support for automatic pardons, yet the provision did not make it into the final measure. Instead, the fee for applying for a cannabis pardon was eliminated as a political compromise, although that still left all of the hoops that needed to be jumped through.
“According to a poll by The Globe and Mail/Nanos Research, however, 62 per cent of Canadians support or somewhat support the calls for a pardon for every person with a criminal record for marijuana possession.” The Globe and Mail stated back in 2017.
That level of support appears to have increased between 2017 and 2022, with new polling showing a slight uptick. Per Research Co:
More than three-in-five Canadians are in favour of a plan to pardon people convicted of simple possession of marijuana, a new Research Co. poll has found.
In the online survey of a representative national sample, 64% of Canadians agree with the federal government providing expungement orders to people convicted of possession of cannabis for personal use with no intent to traffic.
It still appears to be unclear how many people in Canada have one or more related cannabis convictions on their record that would be eligible for expungement. Starting in the 1970s tens of thousands of people were convicted of possession every year in Canada. In 2015 alone it’s estimated that roughly 49,000 charges were applied by law enforcement.
Cannabis pardons and expungements need to be automatic, and that needs to be the practice everywhere, including in Canada.
The harms of prohibition are numerous, and the wrongs of the past will never be righted until every person that was ever convicted of a cannabis offense is freed from the burden of having it follow them around everywhere that they go. And the burden of making that happen falls squarely on the government, not the victim.