The federal government introduced a long-awaited bill Friday afternoon detailing plans for pardons for criminal possession of a drug now deemed legal in Canada.
Under the proposed legislation, Canadians previously convicted of simple pot possession would be able to apply for a pardon with no application fee or wait period.
Simple pot possession refers to personal use, with no intent to traffic.
Estimates vary — and if Ottawa has an official tally, it has never been made public — but there’s a widespread belief that anywhere between 250,000 and half a million Canadians carry the weight of a cannabis conviction.
“Today, I introduced Bill #C93 which would take unprecedented action to allow people with criminal records only for simple cannabis possession to apply for a pardon & waive the fee and the 5-10 yr wait period for the 1st time in history,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted Friday.
Goodale was joined at a news conference Friday afternoon releasing details of the legislation by Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, and Marc Miller, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
“Ensuring timely access to pardons for individuals previously convicted only of simple possession of cannabis will help make things fairer for these Canadians — including visible minority communities, Indigenous communities and those in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods — who should have greater access to employment, volunteering opportunities, educational programs, and housing,” Blair said in a news release.
Blair told reporters an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Canadians are eligible to apply for an expedited pardon.
“I would hope that all Canadians would reflect on their own personal lived experience, and I would hope that that they would also look upon those with criminal records for possession for their own personal use with compassion and understanding that this is the right way to deal with those records,” Blair said Friday.
The fee to apply for a pardon had been $631.
A pardon is unlikely to satisfy critics, who argue that anything short of full expungement is an uneven, unfair remedy for those burdened by prohibition’s legal hangover.
A pardon means a person’s record won’t show up in government searches, but it still exists and may still cause trouble at the U.S. border.
The move has been in the works for months after the Trudeau government legalized recreational pot use in October.
Goodale told a news conference last fall that the government was working on such legislation, saying “individuals who previously acquired criminal records for simple possession of cannabis should be allowed to shed the burden and the stigma of that record.
“This will eliminate what are disproportionate consequences and break down barriers, which could mean greater access to job opportunities and education and housing and even the ability to simply volunteer for a charity,” he said.