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Lessons from Canada’s Drug Decriminalization

Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, but it has been slow to suspend possession convictions.

Cannabis advocates hold a blow-up joint on the National Mall ahead of President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress to call on the administration to take action on legalization and expungement of criminal records on April 28, 2021.

Cannabis advocates hold a blow-up joint on the National Mall ahead of President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress to call on the administration to take action on legalization and expungement of criminal records on April 28, 2021.

Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

On Oct. 6, US President Joe Biden issued a proclamation pardoning federal convictions of simple possession of cannabis, which many are interpreting as a step towards nationwide legalization. A similar move in Canada shows that may be easier said than done.

The new legal classification mirrors an act passed by Canada in 2019 that allows people to have their cannabis possession conviction records suspended (similar to pardoned) through an expedited application process at no cost. Both decisions were driven by an acknowledgment of the war on drugs’ devastation on mostly non-white populations.