UTM professor advocates to expunge cannabis-related convictions that have historically targeted black and indigenous communities

News Nov 07, 2018 by Maryam Mirza Mississauga News

While legalization of marijuana brings economic prosperity and business opportunities to many Canadians, a University of Toronto Mississauga professor is reminding us how marginalized communities disproportionately targeted by drug laws and are still living with criminal records impeding their ability to be part of that growth. 

Assistant professor at the sociology department, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, focuses primarily on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice and recently spoke at the TEDxToronto conference. 

Owusu-Bempah argues that while the government has signalled it would pardon individuals with convictions for cannabis possession, pardons don’t go far enough to erase the harm. 

“Canada, like many countries, has been waging a war on drugs,” he said. “We have been arresting and incarcerating people for a variety of drug crimes.” 

Currently, more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for something that is now legal — possessing 30 grams or fewer of cannabis — impeding their ability to complete education, gain meaningful employment, travel and secure housing.

Even though members of different racial groups use drugs like cannabis at relatively similar rates, black and indigenous people have been disproportionately targeted by drug law enforcement, he said.

Through the cannabis amnesty, Owusu-Bempah and a team of lawyers are pushing the government to provide amnesty for people who have convictions for cannabis related crimes that are no longer illegal. 

“What is needed is expungement which actually clears any traces of a record,” he said. 

The next step is inclusion of people convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the cannabis industry by providing licenses to operate. 

“(These) people see themselves shut out of the market,” he added. “They can’t find jobs in legal weed because of their convictions.”

That fact people who were targeted for an offence and not allowed to benefit from this new-found legal status, Owusu-Bempah says, is made worse by the fact that former police officials and leaders are now themselves running cannabis companies. 

“The very people responsible for those criminal records get to cash it in and the people they arrested are shut out,” he added.

Finally, Owusu-Bempah argues that tax revenues from legal sales of the cannabis industry should be reinvested in communities that have been harmed the most. 

“So, recognizing in Canada, perhaps half a billion dollars a year have been spent policing cannabis — that’s money that has gone to the police, corrections, instead of things like community centres, hospitals and schools,” he said. 

After completing his graduate studies, Owusu-Bempah began his career as a professor at Indiana University, learning from people engaged in similar work he is doing in Canada. 

In American jurisdictions like Massachusetts, Owusu-Bempah says they are creating specific forms of licenses and avenues of entry into the cannabis industry for those people who were targeted. 

“The thing I like about Massachusetts the most is that they also provide kind of business mentorship and skills development for these people as well,” he said. 

It takes a lot of financial and social capital to build one of these businesses, he added. 

“Because communities have been over-policed, and these individuals have had opportunities for education and employment hampered, they are not necessarily going to have the skills needed to build a business.”

Owusu-Bempah, along with cannabis amnesty, aims to see a complete erasure of cannabis-related criminal records and want to see the government do that first, instead of relying on individuals to apply for their own expungement.

“The government should have never criminalized this behaviour in the first place and therefore it should be incumbent on the government to get rid of that as well.”

 

 

UTM professor advocates to expunge cannabis-related convictions that have historically targeted black and indigenous communities

News Nov 07, 2018 by Maryam Mirza Mississauga News

While legalization of marijuana brings economic prosperity and business opportunities to many Canadians, a University of Toronto Mississauga professor is reminding us how marginalized communities disproportionately targeted by drug laws and are still living with criminal records impeding their ability to be part of that growth. 

Assistant professor at the sociology department, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, focuses primarily on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice and recently spoke at the TEDxToronto conference. 

Owusu-Bempah argues that while the government has signalled it would pardon individuals with convictions for cannabis possession, pardons don’t go far enough to erase the harm. 

“Canada, like many countries, has been waging a war on drugs,” he said. “We have been arresting and incarcerating people for a variety of drug crimes.” 

Related Content

Currently, more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for something that is now legal — possessing 30 grams or fewer of cannabis — impeding their ability to complete education, gain meaningful employment, travel and secure housing.

Even though members of different racial groups use drugs like cannabis at relatively similar rates, black and indigenous people have been disproportionately targeted by drug law enforcement, he said.

Through the cannabis amnesty, Owusu-Bempah and a team of lawyers are pushing the government to provide amnesty for people who have convictions for cannabis related crimes that are no longer illegal. 

“What is needed is expungement which actually clears any traces of a record,” he said. 

The next step is inclusion of people convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the cannabis industry by providing licenses to operate. 

“(These) people see themselves shut out of the market,” he added. “They can’t find jobs in legal weed because of their convictions.”

That fact people who were targeted for an offence and not allowed to benefit from this new-found legal status, Owusu-Bempah says, is made worse by the fact that former police officials and leaders are now themselves running cannabis companies. 

“The very people responsible for those criminal records get to cash it in and the people they arrested are shut out,” he added.

Finally, Owusu-Bempah argues that tax revenues from legal sales of the cannabis industry should be reinvested in communities that have been harmed the most. 

“So, recognizing in Canada, perhaps half a billion dollars a year have been spent policing cannabis — that’s money that has gone to the police, corrections, instead of things like community centres, hospitals and schools,” he said. 

After completing his graduate studies, Owusu-Bempah began his career as a professor at Indiana University, learning from people engaged in similar work he is doing in Canada. 

In American jurisdictions like Massachusetts, Owusu-Bempah says they are creating specific forms of licenses and avenues of entry into the cannabis industry for those people who were targeted. 

“The thing I like about Massachusetts the most is that they also provide kind of business mentorship and skills development for these people as well,” he said. 

It takes a lot of financial and social capital to build one of these businesses, he added. 

“Because communities have been over-policed, and these individuals have had opportunities for education and employment hampered, they are not necessarily going to have the skills needed to build a business.”

Owusu-Bempah, along with cannabis amnesty, aims to see a complete erasure of cannabis-related criminal records and want to see the government do that first, instead of relying on individuals to apply for their own expungement.

“The government should have never criminalized this behaviour in the first place and therefore it should be incumbent on the government to get rid of that as well.”

 

 

UTM professor advocates to expunge cannabis-related convictions that have historically targeted black and indigenous communities

News Nov 07, 2018 by Maryam Mirza Mississauga News

While legalization of marijuana brings economic prosperity and business opportunities to many Canadians, a University of Toronto Mississauga professor is reminding us how marginalized communities disproportionately targeted by drug laws and are still living with criminal records impeding their ability to be part of that growth. 

Assistant professor at the sociology department, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, focuses primarily on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice and recently spoke at the TEDxToronto conference. 

Owusu-Bempah argues that while the government has signalled it would pardon individuals with convictions for cannabis possession, pardons don’t go far enough to erase the harm. 

“Canada, like many countries, has been waging a war on drugs,” he said. “We have been arresting and incarcerating people for a variety of drug crimes.” 

Related Content

Currently, more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for something that is now legal — possessing 30 grams or fewer of cannabis — impeding their ability to complete education, gain meaningful employment, travel and secure housing.

Even though members of different racial groups use drugs like cannabis at relatively similar rates, black and indigenous people have been disproportionately targeted by drug law enforcement, he said.

Through the cannabis amnesty, Owusu-Bempah and a team of lawyers are pushing the government to provide amnesty for people who have convictions for cannabis related crimes that are no longer illegal. 

“What is needed is expungement which actually clears any traces of a record,” he said. 

The next step is inclusion of people convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the cannabis industry by providing licenses to operate. 

“(These) people see themselves shut out of the market,” he added. “They can’t find jobs in legal weed because of their convictions.”

That fact people who were targeted for an offence and not allowed to benefit from this new-found legal status, Owusu-Bempah says, is made worse by the fact that former police officials and leaders are now themselves running cannabis companies. 

“The very people responsible for those criminal records get to cash it in and the people they arrested are shut out,” he added.

Finally, Owusu-Bempah argues that tax revenues from legal sales of the cannabis industry should be reinvested in communities that have been harmed the most. 

“So, recognizing in Canada, perhaps half a billion dollars a year have been spent policing cannabis — that’s money that has gone to the police, corrections, instead of things like community centres, hospitals and schools,” he said. 

After completing his graduate studies, Owusu-Bempah began his career as a professor at Indiana University, learning from people engaged in similar work he is doing in Canada. 

In American jurisdictions like Massachusetts, Owusu-Bempah says they are creating specific forms of licenses and avenues of entry into the cannabis industry for those people who were targeted. 

“The thing I like about Massachusetts the most is that they also provide kind of business mentorship and skills development for these people as well,” he said. 

It takes a lot of financial and social capital to build one of these businesses, he added. 

“Because communities have been over-policed, and these individuals have had opportunities for education and employment hampered, they are not necessarily going to have the skills needed to build a business.”

Owusu-Bempah, along with cannabis amnesty, aims to see a complete erasure of cannabis-related criminal records and want to see the government do that first, instead of relying on individuals to apply for their own expungement.

“The government should have never criminalized this behaviour in the first place and therefore it should be incumbent on the government to get rid of that as well.”