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Canada Has No Plans To Clear Existing Criminal Records For Pot Possession

People with criminal records for simple possession can apply for a pardon through the parole board.

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The Canadian government has no plans to expunge the criminal records of people convicted of marijuana possession, despite tabling a bill Thursday that seeks to legalize recreational use by July 2018.

Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS

One of the biggest questions hanging over the Liberal government's legalization efforts has been whether people previously convicted of pot offences will get a clean slate once those same crimes are no longer on the books. However, the government's legalization bill — known as the Cannabis Act — contains no such measure.

Public Safety Canada said there are no plans to address the issue in another piece of legislation, either.

"The Government of Canada is not considering granting blanket pardons for previous convictions of simple possession of cannabis," a spokesperson told BuzzFeed Canada.

The government's own backgrounder on legalization highlights the "serious, lifelong implications" of carrying a criminal record for pot.

"People with criminal records may have difficulty finding employment and housing, and may be prevented from travelling outside Canada," says the document.

"Keeping Canadians, especially youth, out of the criminal justice system for simple cannabis possession is a key goal of the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis."

The government says that more than half of all drug offences reported by police are for possession. In 2014, this resulted in more than 22,000 criminal charges.

The only recourse for those stuck with criminal records, according to Public Safety, is to apply for a record suspension through the Parole Board of Canada. However, people are only eligible to apply "five years after the individual’s sentence has been completed."

The Cannabis Act is sure to leave many activists unsatisfied.

This is BAD "LEGALIZATION". This is not the end of marijuana prohibition. This is Prohibition 2.0 Criminalization continues... 😒 #cdnpoli

Dana Larsen, a Vancouver-based activist who has given millions of marijuana seeds away for free in an effort to "overgrow" Canada, said the legislation is a good start but is needlessly punitive.

"These decisions are being made based on 'What can we do to blunt conservative attacks against this legislation?'" he told BuzzFeed Canada.

Under the Liberal legalization scheme, providing marijuana to anyone under 18 can result in up to 14 years in prison, which Larsen said would put a 19-year-old at risk simply for sharing a joint with a 17-year-old friend.

"They're still treating cannabis much, much more severely than alcohol, which I think is just bad public policy," he said.

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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