Canadians who have been convicted for possession of cannabis can now have that conviction wiped from their record.
The federal government has introduced Bill C93 which enables Canadians to obtain a free, no wait pardon for simple possession of cannabis.
“Instead of waiting five years and paying a parole board $631, applicants will no longer have to wait a single minute and will not owe the parole board a single cent,” said Federal Justice Minister David Lametti.
“We know that this is particularly significant for many in minority communities, including black and Indigenous Canadians who have been disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis laws.”
But anyone still serving a sentence for simple pot possession will have to wait, Lametti said.
“To my understanding no one is actually sitting in jail as a result of a conviction for possession of cannabis,” he said. But some Canadians might still have community service obligations or other requirements connected to a conviction, he added.
“In that case we wouldn’t interfere in that regard,” Lametti said. “Those people will have to finish their sentence.”
Lametti also tried to downplay concerns that even after a pardon, Canadians might still have difficulty crossing the border into the United States.
“Any sovereign country controls who goes into their country so that is, in a sense, beyond our control. The Canadian database – CPIC – won’t show that criminal conviction anymore. That’s usually what the American border agents will be checking,” said Lametti. “Now if they for some other reason had some prior contact that a person may have had within their own database, an American database showing a conviction for possession, that might still show up. But the current Canadian database moving forward will no longer show that criminal conviction.”
But a pardon is not an expungement, which involves having a conviction completely wiped off the books, and activists have criticized the law for not going far enough. They say a criminal record can be reinstated if it is not expunged.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said Thursday Lametti’s news was a “small step in the right direction.” National Chief Robert Bertrand said in a statement that the criminal records should be expunged.
“The issue of simple cannabis possession has had negative affects on Indigenous people in this country and has caused great harm to families and closed many opportunities for employment,” he said in a statement.
Lametti said the government is reserving expungement for people who were convicted in the past of offences that today would be considered a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners.
Before legalization last Oct. 17, people convicted of simple possession could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Lametti estimates are that upwards of 250,000 Canadians have some form of cannabis possession conviction. Pardons, once approved, will be “almost instantaneous.”
WATCH: Federal Justice Minister David Lametti’s full announcement
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report