Ben & Jerry’s calls on ice cream lovers to fight for cannabis amnesty

The popular ice cream company served up a cold dish of reality aimed at American policy makers

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On Friday (April 19), popular ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s dished out a statement on the disproportionate criminalization of minorities at the hand of prohibitionist drug laws.

In the release, the company urged the U.S. Congress to pardon and expunge prior marijuana convictions and provide amnesty to anyone convicted of simple possession. Specifically, they are taking aim at the systemic racism imbedded in the drug war.

It reads: “Let’s be clear: even with increased legalization, hundreds of thousands of people are still being arrested for pot. And most of those people are Black.”

The company points to cities like San Francisco and Seattle, where pre-legalization convictions are already being cleared from records, and tips its hat to the growing body of prosecutors refusing to convict for cannabis possession. Now, it hopes to inspire a nationwide movement.

“Between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 8 million pot arrests (88 percent for possession). And during that time, a Black person was 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Since then, in states that have legalized cannabis, arrests, as you’d expect, have gone down. Unfortunately, legalization hasn’t done anything to change the racial disparities.”

In states like Colorado and Alaska, people of colour are still being arrested at significantly higher rates than caucasians for cannabis possession.

Ben & Jerry’s is no stranger to political activism. Its official website is home to several blog posts highlighting issues like climate change, transgender rights, and racial inequality. With this latest post, its cannabis amnesty petition has already garnered over 33,000 signatures.

In Canada, federally licensed producers, legalization advocates, and cannabis brands are also calling for the expungement of pot-related charges. The non-profit organization Cannabis Amnesty is asking Canadians to call local MPs, sign a petition, and donate funds to the cause—all in an effort to entirely wipe minor cannabis charges off of criminal records.

An estimated 500,000 Canadians currently carry a charge for the now-legal substance, which Cannabis Amnesty argues hinders career opportunities, travel, and financial assistance. Before October 17, 2018, simple possession was punishable with a jail sentence of up to six months and $1,000 fine. Now, Canadians can legally carry or travel with up to 30 grams of dried flower, or the equivilent in infused tinctures, without any documentation.

In February, public safety minister Ralph Goodale tabled a bill aimed at securing expedited, no-charge pardons for anyone convicted of simple cannabis possession before the federal legalization of weed last year. He hopes it will be passed into law by this summer.

Advocates, however, say simple pardons aren't enough and are instead calling for full expungement. The action would entirely remove a conviction from an individual’s record, whereas a pardon simply excuses the charge.

"A pardon does little more than set aside a criminal conviction. In this way, it signalling to authorities that the person—although once convicted of a criminal offence—deserves another chance," writes lawyer Sarah Leamon for the Georgia Straight. "An expungement, on the other hand, effectively erases a past criminal conviction. It makes it as though the criminal act had never taken place in the first place."

Vancouver-born actor Seth Rogen is the latest investor in the country’s rapidly evolving legal cannabis industry to draw attention to the movement.

In a selfie posted on the annual day of legalization protest, 4/20, Rogen urged his followers to sign Cannabis Amnesty’s petition.

Holding up his laptop with the organization’s logo displayed on the screen, he writes: “420 is also abut activism and Id like to bring awareness to some of the injustices to revolve around cannabis in Canada. Canadians deserve freedom, not forgiveness.”

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