Cannabis Amnesty: The Eradication of Cannabis Crimes in the Legal Era
Cannabis has been legalized in Canada, yet we still can’t yet say that cannabis is totally free until everyone who has been charged with a cannabis crime or incarcerated for cannabis is free as well.
Both in Canada and down South in the United States, cannabis crime is a big problem, and sadly, there has been a strong racialization of cannabis crimes in North America, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) being disproportionately affected.
TOKE is an advocate for the continued push for freedom of the cannabis plant, the eradication of cannabis criminal records, and for retribution for those who have been negatively or disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis.
A Look Down South
Before we turn our attention to what’s happening here, let’s look below to the United States. In that country, cannabis remains federally illegal, although it has been legalized for either medical or recreational purposes in over 30 states. Despite this, tens of thousands of people across America sit in jail for their involvement in cannabis.
Down south, the racialization of cannabis is a continued and persisting problem. A 2020 analysis completed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, with that number rising to being 6, 8 or 10x more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, with the State of Montana being the biggest offender of race-based arrests.
While BIPOC people are disproportionately targeted for cannabis arrests in the United States, all cannabis arrests have experienced an uptick since 2015, despite the increased legalization of cannabis across some states, including Maryland and Maine, which have legal cannabis programs in place. In fact, cannabis arrests accounted for 43% of all drug arrests in 2018; almost 90% of those were for possession.
In the United States, The Last Prisoner Project, led by long-time advocate Steve DeAngelo, has stated that 15.7 million people have been arrested for cannabis in the last decade. You can read the stories of people who have been charged with cannabis “crimes” through The Last Prisoner Project here.
Cannabis Criminalization in Canada
We highlight the United States not because they’re worse than Canada, but because we want to demonstrate that on the issues of racialized cannabis crimes, Canada is no better. 53% of drug crimes in Canada were cannabis-related in 2016, which demonstrates that cannabis was a serious criminal matter prior to legalization. Legalization was supposed to be a promise for the eradication of cannabis-related crimes, yet as of September 2019, only 44 criminal records for cannabis in Canada have been pardoned. It’s estimated that up to half a million Canadians have criminal records for cannabis possession to this day.
The implications of an unpardoned cannabis criminal record are vast. Not only are people needing to reintegrate into society after imprisonment, but they also are barred from travelling outside the country, and cannot find viable and secure employment due to their criminal record.
Here in Canada, Cannabis Amnesty, a volunteer-led and run organization dedicated to wiping out cannabis criminal records states that the racialized problems in cannabis that we see in the United States also persist here. According to Cannabis Amnesty, Black Torontonians are three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana than White Torontonians despite equal rates of use.
Cannabis Amnesty is fighting to remove all remaining barriers, cost related or otherwise, from gaining those pardons, and for full criminal record expungement to ensure true cannabis criminal justice reform is achieved. In their fight to create true justice, they focus on Bill C-93, which was supposed to be the Bill that moved Canadians towards cannabis amnesty.
They acknowledge that the application process for expungement of cannabis criminal records is arduous and costly. They also fight for full expungement, not just suspensions of criminal records. They also advocate for a removal of the requirements that an application has costly supporting documents that may present barriers to people who are economically affected, despite the fee for the application being lowered to $631.
Be a Changemaker
It’s important to know that individuals and groups can push for change on the topic of cannabis amnesty. Here are a few things you can think about doing:
- Offer your skills and time as a Volunteer for Cannabis Amnesty
- Sign the Cannabis Amnesty petition
- Contact your local MP to discuss how you can lobby for change
- Write your municipal, provincial and federal leaders
- Write to law enforcement to call for an end to racialized criminalization for cannabis
TOKE will never stop being faithful servants of the cannabis plant and its people. We believe that we cannot fully enjoy the cannabis plant until ALL people who have worked in its name are free.