Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in a New York Times article, following up on the consequences in Canada’s legal system after two years of legalizing cannabis. This article reviewed the changes that marijuana legalization promised to make for Canadian society, and whether or not these changes were effective. Owusu-Bempah argues that the legalization did help reduce the “heavily racialized” arrests for marijuana possession, but still has a long way to go for reparations to those with outstanding criminal records, equity issues with Indigenous operations, and increasing Black and Indigenous executives of legal marijuana businesses.
Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.
We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full article on The New York Times here (paywall).
2 Years After Legalizing Cannabis, Has Canada Kept Its Promises?
When Robert was 18, he was arrested by Montreal’s police for possession of a small amount of hashish, an event that would upend his young life.
The charge brought him 30 days in jail, and the conviction ended his part-time job as a translator.
“Back then, you smoke a joint, you would get arrested,” said Robert, who asked that only his first name be used because of the continuing stigma of his criminal record. “Then the cops would put you in a car, then pull over and give you a couple of shots in the head. You get slapped around just because of smoking.”
His arrest in 1988 as a teenager marked the start of a long, unhappy history with Canada’s legal system, with his first jail stint opening up a new trade: burglary.
“It was like school,” said Robert, who spent a total of 14 years locked up, roughly divided between convictions on drug offenses and thefts to buy more drugs. “I went there for smoking and then guys are showing me how to open doors.”
The recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Canada two years ago, and when the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made its legalization pitch to the country, it was stories like Robert’s — a life derailed by a possession charge — that most resonated with many Canadians.