NDP introduce a private member's bill calling for cannabis amnesty

MP Murray Rankin is pushing the federal government to expunge the records of Canadians with minor drug possession charges in light of cannabis legalization

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      Murray Rankin, a New Democrat MP, announced today (Oct. 3) that he will table a private member's bill in the House of Commons calling for the expungement of criminal records for any Canadian carrying a charge for minor cannabis possession.

      “This is a day I have been working on literally since the 1970s,” he said this afternoon in the House foyer.

      “I believe it’s critical that Canadians who have criminal records for something that in two short weeks will be perfectly legal no longer suffer the burden of having a criminal record.”

      Rankin was flanked by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh who called the initiative a “bold step forward”. If passed, Singh said, the legislation asks to delete the record for anyone thats faced minor, non-violent possession of a personal nature.

      Annamaria Enenajor, a Toronto criminal lawyer and the campaign director for Cannabis Amnesty, also spoke during the scrum. The organization is a non-profit, non-partisan group working to improve the lives of Canadians with weed-related convictions.

      Cannabis Amnesty estimates that over 500,000 Canadians live with charges for activities that will be considered legal after October 17—the official date of the federal legalization of cannabis.

      When it comes into effect, Bill C-45 will allow for the personal possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis for adults over the legal age, including up to four homegrown plants.

      “These are Canadians who have been barred from employment of their choice, volunteer opportunities, and from other opportunities where a screening or background check would have identified cannabis possession on their record,” Enenajor said to the press.

      “We believe these Canadians deserve a second change and we believe our country deserves to have them input the best of their skills and knowledge to our marketplace.”

      As a part of the campaign, Cannabis Amnesty says they reached out to all parties at all levels of government to seek their cooperation and input.

      “We have heard from the Liberal party and we have had some discussions informing them about what expungement or cannabis amnesty would look like, but there has been no movement on that front,” said Enenajor.

      “There has been no guarantee on the part of the government, no action, no movement on that front, but there has been an openness from them. I hope they take on that openness and attach to it a sense of urgency.”

      Enenajor also drew attention to the systemic racism surrounding cannabis convictions across North America.

      “It is incredibly important that these Canadians be allowed to get their life back on track without the burden of a cannabis conviction hanging over their heads. It is even more pressing given the reality that cannabis possession convictions and prosecutions in Canada disproportionately affect radicalized and marginalized Canadians,” she said.

      “These Canadians are far more likely to have beens stopped by the police, arrested, and convicted, and receive a harsher sentences for this offence, and we think that is simply unfair and unjust.”

      Rankin echoed the statement, adding that he has unofficially spoken to other MPs and government officials who acknowledge cannabis convictions disproportionately affect marginalized Canadians. He hopes other MPs will see this initiative as a social justice issue, and not a partisan tactic.

      Rankin says he does not expect the bill to enter into debate before October 17, but he predicts that to take place sometime in early November.

      The bill will be presented in the House of Commons today around 12:00 p.m. (PT).

      UPDATE (Oct. 4, 2018 at 3:34 p.m. PT): Due to a lack of time, the bill was tabled on Thursday, October 4, 2018.