Episode 59: Expunging Cannabis Convictions

More Themes – Oct 2022

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Episode 59: Expunging Cannabis Convictions
Broadcast Date: October 6, 2022 


In this episode, Adjunct Research Professor Dr. Samantha McAleese from Carleton University and Lawyer Russell Bennett, founder of Cannabis Law, Barristers & Solicitors, tackle the topic of expunging cannabis convictions. Together, they discuss the evolution of cannabis law, and why they think changes are needed in a country that is constantly evolving.

Cannabis was officially legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018, but approximately 250,000 Canadians still have criminal records for personal possession of the drug. Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are over-represented in arrests for cannabis possession. Following Canadian legalization, Bill C-93 allowed Canadians with simple cannabis convictions to suspend their records. In the United States, the disproportionate criminalization of African American and Latinx people was central to cannabis legalization and decriminalization.

The Canadian government is slowly taking action to follow the United States’ amnesty model. Bill C-5 would “sequester” criminal records for personal possession of all drugs two years after any sentence resulting from the conviction. While the bill’s passing would be a positive step, more needs to be done to truly repair the harm to communities most affected by drug possession convictions.


Samantha McAleese is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University. Her recently defended dissertation was awarded a Senate Medal and she received an Outstanding Graduate Student award from the Canadian Sociological Association for her work that emphasizes the importance of combining research with advocacy. Samantha’s research focuses on the challenges faced by people with criminal records in the community and the role of the non-profit sector in alleviating barriers to re-entry and integration. She works with various non-profit organizations and advocacy groups on issues of penal policy and practice in Canada. Samantha’s recent publications speak to concerns around cannabis legalization and Canada’s lacklustre strategy for handling convictions for minor possession of marijuana.


  • Russell Bennett, B.Sc., LL.B., Founder, Cannabis Law, Barristers & Solicitors, Toronto

Russell Bennett became a lawyer in 1997 prior to establishing a career in film and theatre production. In 1998, Bennett produced and co-directed the documentary STONED: Hemp Nation on Trial, which followed the trial of Christopher Clay, owner of Hemp Nation, Canada’s first hemp store. STONED premiered on CBC and was nominated for Best Political Documentary at Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival. In 2004, Bennett co-wrote and performed The Reefer Man, a multi-character solo play that told the story of a lawyer who is arrested for growing award-winning cannabis in his basement but escapes to become an underground cannabis superhero. Bennett toured the award-winning play to fringe festivals and professional theatres across Canada. After the birth of the first of his three children, Bennett returned to the practice of insolvency and fraud recovery law. On April 20, 2018, Bennett founded Cannabis Law, Barristers & Solicitors, a full-service cannabis law firm to help and protect small businesses and entrepreneurs as they grow. To understand Canadian legalization, Bennett wrote the book, Canada’s Cannabis Act: Annotation & Commentary, now in its third edition, 2021-2022. Bennett represents litigants at the Superior, Provincial, Divisional and Court of Appeal of Ontario. Bennett posts on matters relating to cannabis and the law at cannabislaw.ca, and hosts the podcast Cannabis Law in Canada, which features long-form interviews with industry and legal experts.

Related Documentation

Suspension, not expungement: Rationalizing misguided policy decisions around cannabis amnesty in Canada − By Samantha McAleese. First published: November 18, 2019

Canada’s new lacklustre law for cannabis amnesty − By Samantha McAleese, The Conversation, June 28, 2019

McAleese: A criminal record shouldn’t follow people for life − By Samantha McAleese, Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 2022

• Fresh Start Coalition: https://freshstartcoalition.ca/

• “Cannabis Law in Canada Podcast Series” with cannabis lawyer Russell Bennett

Canada’s Cannabis Act: Annotation & Commentary, 2022/2023 Edition − By Russell Bennett and Professor Emeritus Alan Young, 664 pages, LexisNexis Canada. Published: September 12, 2022

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