Sarnia mayor wants Justin Trudeau to clear criminal records for marijuana possession
By Paul Morden – Sarnia Observer –
SARNIA — Sarnia’s mayor wants the federal government to eliminate the criminal records of Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana after recreational use of the drug becomes legal next July.
Mike Bradley sent a letter Monday asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to give “serious consideration” to expunging records for simple possession once marijuana is decriminalized in Canada in July.
“Over the years I’ve had a number of people tell me about the difficulties they’ve had in their lives because of a simple possession conviction,” Bradley said.
His request is for the federal government to only consider clearing criminal records for simple possession, and not more serious charges such as trafficking, he said.
Currently, convictions for simple possession can go back decades and prevent Canadians from visiting the U.S., Bradley said.
They are often people who have no other convictions and who have lived lives that have contributed to the country, the mayor said in his letter.
“It seems to me that after next July 1 it’s not against the law, but people have paid a penalty, and in some cases a significant” one, he said.
“Times change and public attitudes have changed,” he said.
“I see it here as almost hypocritical if we de-criminalize and at the same time leave these people with this lasting legacy.”
Bradley said criminal records for simple marijuana possession can impact Canadians’ ability to get jobs and to travel.
“I’m also aware that the Americans don’t always honour our pardons, but to me I think it would help a lot of people,” he said.
Longtime London defence lawyer Gord Cudmore says he has a “mixed reaction” to Bradley’s suggestion.
“I think it’s a very complicated issue. And I think there’s arguments on both sides,” he said.
“You usually don’t back-date or make things retroactive (in the criminal-justice system),” he added.
Cudmore believes marijuana should have been legalized years ago. He also points out that expunging criminal records isn’t as easy as just saying it should be done.
“I think it would (take a lot of effort)” to clear every Canadian who has been convicted of simple possession.
And he’s seeing “less and less” simple-possession charges coming before the courts as next summer approaches.
Paul Whitehead, a retired Western University sociologist who specializes in criminology and addictions, is “not crazy” about decriminalization.
He says what should be taken into account is the number of individuals who plead down to simple possession from more serious charges, such as possession for the purposes of trafficking.
“Our court system depends on 90 per cent of people charged pleading guilty,” Whitehead said. “Whole lots of convictions for simple possessions were plea-negotiated from possession for the purposes of trafficking.”
“I think it’s important to keep in mind how (the simple-possession conviction) got there,” he added.
However, he doesn’t buy the argument that clearing all of those possession charges would be a difficult thing to do. “It’s done all the time. They’re expunged or sealed” or the formerly guilty party receives a pardon, he said.
Whitehead is against the Liberal legislation for “public-health” reasons.
“It’s impossible to increase the availability and acceptability (of pot) for normal, healthy adults without increasing the acceptability and availabiltiy for children and adolescents,” he said.
Now that the federal and provincial governments have said how decriminalization of marijuana will be implemented on July 1, the timing is right to consider those left with criminal records because of the current laws, Bradley said.
Bradley said the federal government has the legislative power to expunge those criminal records.
He said individuals with records are already dealing with changes by the previous federal government that have made receiving a criminal pardon in Canada more difficult and time-consuming.
“I’ve heard of cases of three to five years to get a pardon on a simple possession,” Bradley said.
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