Since cannabis was legalized last fall, the federal Liberals have promised Canadians with prohibition-era marijuana possession records a way of erasing them.
Thursday in Montreal, federal justice minister David Lametti announced details of how to go about it.
People who want to clear their slate face a complex process that involves getting their fingerprints taken, applying for a copy of their criminal record and getting a record check from their local police.
Former members of the military face an extra step of getting a copy of their conduct sheet, either from the defence department or from the national archives.
And if possession convictions that they know exist aren’t in the records, they face the task of proving that they happened.
However, the pardons will be free (normally it costs $631 to apply) and won’t be subject to a waiting period. Normally someone applying for a pardon has to wait a number of years before asking for it, depending on the seriousness of the crime.
“It was one of the main promises we made in the last election – we felt the situation could not go on, that we would regularize and legalize cannabis,” Lametti said. “We’ve done that. This was the next logical step, allowing people to have a pardon for simple possession of cannabis.”
Bill C-93, which provided for the pardons, was passed by Parliament in June. A rival NDP bill called for cannabis offences to be expunged — completely erased, rather than suspended — as was done for historic same-sex offences. That bill failed in May.
About 250,000 Canadians have prohibition-era records for simple possession of marijuana, Lametti said. (Because some people were charged under a generic drug possession offence rather than one specific to cannabis, it’s not clear how many there are.)
The main problem, for those who don’t otherwise have a criminal record, involves problems crossing the U.S. border. A cannabis-related conviction can lead to a lifetime ban on entering the United States.
The U.S. has said repeatedly that it doesn’t recognize Canadian pardons.
Before legalization last Oct. 17, people convicted of simple possession could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
With files from the Canadian Press