Today on behalf of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty team, I went to the National Expungement Fair in Boston to learn about their expungement event and clinic models. Expungement is complete wiping out your criminal records for cannabis charges. CTRL + Delete.
This event was organized by the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council who is part of a nation-wide movement called the National Expungement Week, which is according to their website, "a week of events across the U.S. that offers expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with criminal records. These records can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served. "
There are many solutions offered for reparation but I will highlight two in particular that the leaders and organizers of MRCC highlighted through their program:
One: automatic expungement of criminal records. There is technology out there that can do this.
Two: people and communities harmed by the war on drugs get prioritized in accessing entrepreneurial and employment opportunities in the growing cannabis industry. It's a growing pie. There is something for everyone as long as we are willing to share.
What was wonderful was to see community leaders, politicians, bureaucrats and civil society organizations who were aligned with the mission show up and share tangible solutions that they were working on.
Michelle Wu, City Councillor, spoke of how no matter how much housing, employment, and other social indicators go up, if certain communities continue to face barriers, we're not doing enough. She is known to pass progressive legislations and some say she'll be the next mayor.
State Representative Chynah Tyler, who hails from the neighbourhood we were being hosted in, presented a bill (H3721) she was working on to make the expungement bill more inclusive and stronger.
Through social equity programs mandated by the government, Christian Palmero from the Students Sensible Drug Policy explained training programs for people and their families who have been harmed by the war on drugs which facilitates their entrepreneurial and employment pathways into the cannabis industry. First program of cohorts is about 150 people and the program launches in two weeks.
Massachusetts is a leader in looking at the cannabis legalization from the lens of social justice and righting wrongs done by its prohibition. Canada, on the other hand, passed a pardon bill as if people with criminal records for cannabis possession should be forgiven by the state for having done something that should never have been illegal in the first place.
Among many priorities, there is a great window of opportunity now to leverage this already deeply established and flourishing cannabis economy to:
--- create purposeful jobs and businesses for people who face multiple barriers and were harmed by the war on drugs;
--- heal between communities and especially among impacted communities;
--- learn to respect and honour sacramental or spiritual uses of the plant;
--- contribute towards a dynamic and equity-focused cannabis culture.
There is precedent in places like Massachusetts. The question is how will Canada follow suit?