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Pot activist calls for pardons, compensation for those with cannabis convictions
With marijuana set to become legal in July, a prominent cannabis activist is calling on the Canadian government to clear the criminal records of those convicted of pot-related offences and to compensate them if they served jail time.
"If I was in charge, we would vacate all convictions for any cannabis-related offence of any kind," Dana Larsen told CTV News. "As far as I'm concerned, cannabis prohibition has always been wrong and immoral…They should at least be vacating the convictions for possession and nobody should be disagreeing about that."
Larsen said the taxes collected in the first few years after legalization should be put into a fund used to compensate those "who have been harmed by cannabis prohibition."
"We could figure out a formula of so many dollars a day for the time you spent in jail," he said. "There'[re] many Canadians alive now who did six months or two years for simple possession of cannabis…The goal is to apologize and acknowledge the harm."
Larsen himself was charged in 2016 for trafficking of low-THC cannabis seeds, but was never convicted.
On Thursday, Seattle’s Mayor announced she would be asking the courts to vacate misdemeanor possession convictions, citing that having a criminal record was a barrier “to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs.”
Last month, the city of San Francisco announced it would do the same, though officials in California, which legalized recreational marijuana in January, have said they’ll be considering pardons on a case-by-case basis.
Under Canadian law, those who have been convicted of simple possession of up to 30 grams can currently apply to have their conviction pardoned 5 years after their sentence is complete.
Ottawa hasn’t ruled out further reforms, but only after legalization is complete.
"We do not want to encourage, in any way, people to engage in that behaviour until the law is changed," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January. “Once the law is changed, we will of course reflect on fairness in a way that is responsible moving forward.”
Criminal Defense Lawyer Paul Pearson says marijuana convictions tend to disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.
“It makes sense to try and right some of the injustice,” he said. “I think the argument is: we never should have given these people a record in the first place.”
Mike Babins, the co-owner of Evergreen Cannabis Society in Vancouver, agrees in principle with the idea of an apology or acknowledgment by the federal government, but says there shouldn’t be an automatic blanket pardon.
“I think we have to look at each one on a case-by-case basis and say what was the intent?” Babins explained.
“It’s a bit murkier when we talk about people who are trafficking in narcotics … on a commercial scale,” Paul Pearson added.
According to statistics from the federal government, 11,970 British Columbians were charged with pot-related offences in 2016 alone.
Starting this summer, British Columbians over the age of 19 will be able to legally purchase marijuana through government-run stores or from licensed private retailers.
Earlier this week, the province revealed several of the rules that will govern the sale of the drug in B.C., including that recreational marijuana must not be sold in the same stores as alcohol.
With files from CTV Vancouver's David Molko