Police across Canada should continue to arrest people for possessing marijuana. That’s the message the Liberal government has sent out several times in recent weeks as it begins what will, evidently, be a long and complicated process to legalize the drug’s recreational use.
The man tasked with guiding that process, Bill Blair, was recently pressed on why, exactly, police should continue to hang people with criminal records for an offence that will not be a crime for much longer.
Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and former Toronto police chief, responded with a mixed message.
At a Liberal Senate Forum—which sounds like a government function but is actually an independent gathering—he acknowledged the situation as unjust but was reluctant to comment further.
Blair eventually repeated a line he has used several times before.
“The laws that currently exist in this country are in force and in effect and it’s important that those laws continue to be obeyed, upheld, and enforced,” he said.
Earlier this month, Blair said just a little bit more on the subject in a statement sent to the Globe and Mail.
“Until Parliament has enacted new legislation and new rules are in place to ensure that marijuana is carefully regulated, current laws remain in force and should be obeyed,” he said there.
Meanwhile, one of the country’s leading advocates for marijuana reform, Vancouver’s Jodie Emery, has thrown her weight behind a petition that calls for the government to grant amnesty to those convicted of past crimes related to marijuana.
The petition is sponsored by Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party and MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
From 2003 to 2012, the B.C. Ministry of Justice recorded charging 44,522 people under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for crimes related to cannabis.
An even larger number of people were recorded for a marijuana "offence", an interaction with police that falls short of authorities pressing charges but that still can carry heavy consequences if, for example, a record of an offence turns up in a computer at a border crossing.
According to another set of Justice Ministry numbers, from 2003 to 2012 B.C. police recorded 173,157 offences related to cannabis, every one of which remains in police databases today.
On the campaign trail in August 2015, the Straight asked Justin Trudeau if a Liberal government would include releasing people from prison as part of its plans for marijuana reform.
“That’s something that we’ll be looking into as we move forward,” he said in response. “There has been many situations over history when laws come in that overturn previous convictions and there will be a process for that that we will set up in a responsible way.”