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Editorial: A little common sense on pot sentences

The provincial government wants an education campaign to be prepared about the risks involved with cannabis use.
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The actual date of marijuana legalization may be Oct. 17, but already, things are changing. And a little common sense is filtering in.

You don’t have to look any further than Corner Brook, where Provincial Court Judge Wayne Gorman, overseeing a case where 188 grams of marijuana were found in a 19-year-old’s backpack, decided he could not in good conscience follow the Crown’s recommendation that the teen be given a conviction and a $1,000 fine.

Gorman ruled that, since marijuana legalization is fast approaching, “…in my view, a sentencing judge imposing sentence for … the possession of Cannabis cannot ignore the fact that as a society we have decided that possessing certain amounts of this substance should no longer be a crime.”

Instead, Judge Gorman chose a conditional discharge and a period of probation.

“Simply put,” he wrote, “this is not one of those cases where the entering of a conviction is necessary to promote a specific sentencing principle or because of the nature of the offence. It is now clear that in this country the possession of Cannabis is not an offence which requires public condemnation.” Gorman made that decision despite the fact that the teen was charged under the existing legislation, and pleaded guilty.

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That common sense may be filtering in at the federal level as well: as soon as cannabis is legalized, the federal public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, has promised that the government will review the process for removing criminal records of those convicted in the past of marijuana possession.

“When that law changes, which will happen on the 17th of October, then the government will turn its attention to those issues that arise once the law has changed which is in fact making sure that it is fair both in current terms and historic terms to everyone,” Goodale told CTV News. Marijuana convictions can result in difficulties at borders and with potential employers, regardless of how far in the past they might be.

What the promise “fairness” will look like hasn’t been completely made clear, but a spokesman for Goodale told the CBC it could change how pardons are handled for marijuana cases: “Inaccessible pardons can be a significant barrier to good employment as many positions require criminal record checks. We want to ensure that the waiting period, fee and purpose of the program are fair, proportionate and productive.”

The federal NDP are already moving in that direction: an NDP member of Parliament plans to introduce a private member’s bill that would clear the record of those with possession charges. It does seem ridiculous that you could have a conviction on your record for something that isn’t a crime any more.

Things are moving forwards. And these are only some of the things that will change in the post-Oct. 17 world of legalized marijuana.

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