Cannabis amnesty urged

At Anthony Morgan's law office, the calls keep coming: parents of young black men hoping their son's marijuana possession charge will be wiped clean when the country legalizes the drug this year.

The Liberal government has talked about granting amnesty for past marijuana crimes, but isn't likely to move until after the new cannabis regime comes into effect this summer.

For black communities across the country, that's not soon enough — and frustrated lawyers in Toronto are now considering lighting a fire under the feds with a class-action lawsuit.

"There are lawyers who are coming together to consider that as an option if the government is slow," said Morgan, a lawyer with Falconers LLP in Toronto.

"They (the Liberals) are going to have to respond — and it's probably best that they respond internally and in a proactive way, as opposed to a reactive way where much is spent on litigation to move this forward."

For black communities in Canada, amnesty would finally mark a break from a troubled history with marijuana — one wrapped in stigmas, stereotypes and shame that have left some feeling left out of the federal cannabis debate. Morgan recently encapsulated those feelings in a lengthy analysis published in the magazine Policy Options.

This week, to mark the beginning of Black History Month, leaders in Ottawa began putting in their own words what the black community has felt for years.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke about "tackling the systemic nature of anti-black racism," including "discriminatory policing." Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed a desire to take on the "very real and unique challenges that black Canadians face."

Blacks make up 8.6 per cent of federal inmates, even though they account for 3.5 per cent of the general population. In 2014, of the almost 2,200 federal inmates with drug charges, 12 per cent were black, said Robyn Maynard, author of the book "Policing Black Lives."

Statistics, meanwhile, indicate the black community is no more prone to drug use than any other. One study from 2002 found that black youth in Toronto were less likely to use marijuana than their white counterparts.

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