As Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana nationwide on Wednesday, government officials announced a simplified and cost-free process to receive a pardon for past minor pot offenses. Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Canada’s Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, told ABC News that a law was being drafted to streamline pardons for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis.
“We will be introducing legislation to introduce an expedited pardon process, with no fee, for those with previous convictions for simple possession of cannabis,” Bardsley said.
Bardsley said that pardons for past low-level pot crimes were in the interest of justice and fairness.
“The reason we’re doing this is because it’s now something that’s legal, and the consequences of the criminal record are disproportionate to the gravity of the offense,” said Bardsley.
He also noted that the pardons would only apply to crimes of possession for personal use and “not for trafficking. We’re not talking about dealers or producers or anyone of that sort,” Bardsley said.
Under current Canadian law, those with minor marijuana convictions can apply for a pardon of their offense after staying free of other criminal charges for a period of five years. But the process is pricey, costing CA$631 (about US$480). There will be no charge for cannabis possession pardons under the new policy announced on Wednesday. Offenders will be required to apply in order to receive a pardon, however.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said at a press conference on Wednesday morning that pardons for minor convictions are in line with changing public opinion about cannabis.
“We will be introducing a new law to make things fairer for Canadians who have been convicted for possession of cannabis,” Goodale said. “It becomes a matter of basic fairness when older laws from a previous era are changed.”
Recreational Pot Now Legal in Canada
The announcement of easier pardons for pot possession convictions coincided with the enactment of the Cannabis Act, or Bill C-45, making Canada the first G7 nation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. As recreational sales of cannabis became legal early Wednesday morning, Ian Power became one of the first people in Canada to buy a gram of legal recreational pot. After making his purchase at a Tweed dispensary in St. John’s, Newfoundland at five seconds after midnight, Power told reporters outside the store that the experience would be a memorable one.
“I think it’s one of the biggest moments of my life,” Power said. “There’s a tear in my eye. No more back alleys.”
Power added that he intended to keep his purchase, rather than smoking it.
“I am going to frame it and hang it on my wall,” Power said. “I’m going to save it forever.”
Tom Clarke, who sold marijuana illegally for 30 years, opened a cannabis retail store in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland. He made his first legal sale to his father as customers waiting in line cheered.
“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” Clarke said. “I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border.”