There has been a huge political conversation happening in cannabis lately, which maybe you have or haven’t heard about. On March 1st, the federal government tabled Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. If that seems like a good move, you’re right: it is a step in the right direction. But sadly, many people say it doesn’t go far enough. This is why B.C-based cannabis producer, DOJA partnered with Cannabis Amnesty to created the PARDON campaign.
Through the PARDON advocacy campaign, DOJA is hoping to encourage cannabis consumers and Canadians across the nation to sign their petition, that will call upon Parliament to grant pardons to individuals who are held back by simple, non-violent, cannabis possession charges and records. David Duarte, experience and event manager with DOJA explained: “We believe it’s irresponsible and unethical for those with cannabis convictions to continue to be penalized especially as possession of cannabis is no longer a crime.”
The campaign, which set out to garner 10,00 signatures, toured across Canada starting in Vancouver on March 22nd and then stopped off in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and finished its tour in Toronto on April 18-20. Duarte explains that during the tour, the people who approached the truck were either familiar with Cannabis Amnesty and excited to sign the petition or didn’t understand why they were on the street, thinking that cannabis amnesty had gone through when legalization happened. “I think it’s about the awareness because some people are just kind of blindly standing by,” Duarte shared. “But there has been an awareness with us being out there and a conversation that has actually been able to start.”
The biggest thing is educating the public on what exactly Bill C-93 is and what exactly Cannabis Amnesty means for upwards of 500,000 Canadians who have criminal records related to cannabis possession. “It’s a great first step and it’s great to see the government taking action in Canada at all,” explained Stephanie Di Giuseppe, director of fundraising and partnership for Cannabis Amnesty. Right now, the Cannabis Amnesty program is hoping to help expunge or ‘delete’ the records of those who had personal possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. “The issue is the way that they’ve chosen to address it.”
As a result of their criminal records, these individuals face increased difficulties in completing their education, securing employment and housing, and traveling to countries such as the United States. Even though record suspensions are supposed to help, it will still exist in a database, which Di Giuseppe explains governments still have access to.
Di Giuseppe is thankful for campaigns like PARDON, via DOJA, who have committed to 10,000 signatures as it “may help to alleviate some of the unfair or discriminatory treatment that cannabis users with criminal records receive in their interactions with the police going forward.” DOJA is not alone in fighting, with actor Seth Rogen posting something to his Instagram asking his followers to ask the Canadian government to expunge the criminal records of drug users who were convicted of simple pot possession sharing, “Canadians deserve freedom, not forgiveness.”
While the goal is to pardon all individuals with a criminal record for personal possession of cannabis, right now we need to educate why and how we can make Cannabis Amnesty possible. On the phone with Di Giuseppe, we candidly discuss San Francisco who (as of February 2019) recently removed over 9,300 cannabis-related crimes from people’s records. “One of the issues is that the government is creating an application process instead of doing what San Francisco did and just automatically deleting all of the records,” Di Giuseppe explains, noting that the application process can be very onerous for people.
While she admits that the government has removed some of the barriers and requirements, so that it can be accessible to all people, she notes, “It still requires a certain degree of legal savvy and degree of initiative, which may be more difficult than we realize for individuals from rural communities, vulnerable communities, people who live on reserves and all sorts of different individuals who have been hard hit by kind of this prohibition.”
When I spoke to Duarte just prior to the end of April, they were 700 signatures away from reaching their 10,000 signature goal for the PARDON campaign. If people are still interested in supporting or learning about Cannabis Amnesty, they can reach out via the website.