Cannabis Charges Today vs. Cannabis Charges Tomorrow

The legalization of cannabis for recreational use will change the way that some drug charges are levied. How will Bill C-45 impact Canadians with existing criminal records relating to cannabis? The answer may not be as straightforward as some had hoped it would be.

Over the last 15 years, police agencies across Canada have reported in excess of 800,000 cannabis possession incidents to Statistics Canada. In 2016, 55,000 cannabis charges were laid under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, with 76 per cent of them being related to simple possession.

Under Canada's Controlled Drug and Substances Act, there are eight offences related to cannabis whereas the Cannabis Act will have 45. The new law will permit individuals to possess up to 30 grams and grow plants for personal use but will also introduce the concept of illicit cannabis, an umbrella term for all cannabis products obtained outside of a provincially-regulated retailer. The penalties for committing an illicit cannabis offence are aggressive and include the potential for heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences.

The Implications of a Cannabis Charge

In Canada, a criminal record has the potential to wreak havoc on a person's life. From limiting the freedom to travel to impacting the search for meaningful employment, the implications are serious. For individuals who have criminal records for possession, the consequences can seem especially stiff in comparison to the offence. Additionally, evidence suggests that the prohibition laws associated with cannabis have disproportionately targeted marginalized and racialized Canadians.

In California, a state that legalized cannabis, possession as a crime was removed from the books and individuals with prior marijuana convictions could apply to the courts to have their charges reduced or dismissed. In Canada, the concept of returning to a state of tabula rasa might not be as simple.

In May of 2018, a petition was launched in an effort to persuade the federal government to grant amnesty to individuals convicted of simple possession. The goal is to add an amendment to the Cannabis Act that would grant a full pardon, something that the Prime Minister previously said would not be considered until legalization had taken place.

Moving Forward

So where do Canadians with a criminal record relating to a cannabis possession offence stand? At the moment, it's hard to tell. In transitionary times, navigating drug charges can be especially complicated, making it critical to have the right legal help. Given the life-changing impact that a criminal record can have, moving quickly to secure skilled support has the potential to make a significant difference.