Falconers LLP lawyer Anthony Morgan’s phone has been ringing off the hook. The calls coming in are parents of young black men who want to know if the cannabis possession charges hampering their son’s lives are going to be expunged come cannabis legalization later this year.
While the pressure is mounting, and the Liberal government has spoken about amnesty for past cannabis crimes, any move in this direction will likely be delayed until after legalization occurs.
This isn’t fast enough for members of black communities all over the country, which has prompted lawyers to consider filing a class-action lawsuit to keep the pressure on.
Morgan, among others, is considering the option of litigation if the government is too slow to act on this proposal, saying, “They (the Liberals) are going to have to respond – and it’s probably best that they respond internally and in a proactive way, as opposed to a reactive way where much is spent on litigation to move this forward.”
Canadian black communities have a history fraught with trouble from cannabis, and amnesty could finally mark a break in the cycle. Morgan displayed his feelings in an analysis published in magazine Policy Options. As Black History Month has begun, the focus on this issue has been brought further into the light. Justin Trudeau has been joined by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and author Robyn Maynard in expressing the need to tackle the very real issue of anti-black racism.
Statistics show that blacks constitute 8.6 percent of all federal inmates, which is at odds with statistics showing that blacks only making up 3.5 percent of the general population. “In 2014, of almost 2,200 inmates with drug charges, 12 percent were black,” voiced Robyn Maynard, who authored the book “Policing Black Lives.”
Statistics also show that the black community is in fact not more prone to using drugs than any other, which makes the number of blacks convicted on drug charges point to a failure of the policing system. Even Justin Trudeau himself openly admitted to cannabis use and has spoken about how his father assisted in helping his brother avoid cannabis charges. Revelations like these add fuel to the argument that treatment has not been fair or just. Assistant professor of sociology from the University of Toronto, Akwasi Owusu-Bempath has called for a federal apology regarding “discriminatory and disparate treatment, “as well as amnesty for past cannabis convictions.
The so-called “War on Drugs” of the 1980’s and 90’s set the stage for the historical link between black communities and drug usage. Anthony Morgan recalls being asked for drugs on a repeated basis because of his skin colour while he was in school, and says his experiences are quite common for young black males.
With the introduction of the Cannabis Act in April of last year, the Liberal government has been pressured to come up with a suitable amnesty program to account for the disproportionate effects on minorities. There is currently no timeline for cannabis amnesty to be rolled out, but the government is looking at all legal implications. Bill Blair stated that all discussion so far has centered on crimes of cannabis possession, and not cannabis trafficking.
It would be detrimental for the government to act slowly towards amnesty for cannabis, as holding onto any records or convictions would be pointless. However, it is important to determine a framework of what convictions are eligible, how to roll out the pardons and how to help those affected integrate or find work. A potential idea is that those who have had their work affected by cannabis convictions may find employment in the cannabis industry, as cannabis companies are already hiring people with prior experience.
It’s a new field, and innovation will be key, but with a guided and compassionate approach – the government has the power to change a lot of lives for the better.