Liberals Face Internal Debate Over Clemency For Convicted Marijuana Offenders

The Liberals were not united on how to proceed with legalization, caught between establishment MPs who thought the drug should remain illegal, and younger Liberals who wanted to decriminalize first, legalize later.


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A Liberal backbencher told The Post Millennial recently that if Justin Trudeau does not introduce legislation to offer clemency to every Canadian saddled with a criminal record for simple weed possession, he will introduce a bill himself.

Toronto-Beaches MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has voted against his own party more than two dozen times since being elected in 2015, made the comments after Parliament adjourned for the summer break.

Erskine-Smith, who has argued for decriminalization while the Liberals sorted out the legalization framework, reiterated his belief that the government’s position on not decriminalizing marijuana was a mistake.

I supported the interim decriminalization of cannabis possession as we moved towards regulation, and voted in support of a motion in the House that called for that approach,” he said. “While the right permanent solution is regulation, a half measure like decriminalization would have been better than no measure in the interim.”

Prime Minister Trudeau’s position on marijuana has changed several times over the years. In 2012 he said he did not believe legalizing marijuana was the right direction for the country.

In 2013 he told The Huffington Post that he was influenced by his late brother’s simple possession charges, which eventually went away with Pierre Trudeau’s help, that saddling young people with criminal records was the wrong approach.

But when the Liberals won in 2015, with legalization a main campaign promise, Prime Minister Trudeau adopted Stephen Harper’s talking point by claiming decriminalization would ultimately be harmful to children.

The Liberals were not united on how to proceed with legalization, caught between establishment MPs who thought the drug should remain illegal, and younger Liberals who wanted to decriminalize first, legalize later.

But for MPs like Erskine-Smith, issuing pardons for those impacted by possession convictions has always made the most sense. He has essentially put Trudeau on notice.

“I expect the government to act, and I know that a number of my Liberal MP colleagues are supportive of the call for amnesty.”

Erskine-Smith also believes his call for clemency has support among the other parties.

“I would expect the NDP to agree unanimously to the idea, and possibly Scott Reid on the Conservative side, if not others.”

The House resumes after the summer break on September 17th.


James Di Fiore
James is a freelance writer/reporter and political pundit.
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