Manitoba man dreams of heading to U.S. for 'silly county fair' after Ottawa vows to expedite pot pardons
Retiree punished for smoking a joint 40 years ago thrilled by federal decision to waive fees, wait time
After a 40-year prohibition from entering the United States for the misdeed of carrying an ounce of pot, Gary Jones doesn't imagine his life would change much if his criminal record was wiped out.
He wouldn't leave his Winnipeg home or the cabin by the lake that he loves so much, he says.
There is one thing he would like to do, though.
"Just to cross the border and go to a silly county fair, have a corn dog, a candy apple and listen to Bruce Springsteen belt out Born in the U.S.A.," Jones said Wednesday, hours after the federal government announced it would make it easier for people previously convicted of possessing cannabis to obtain a pardon.
"I don't want to go to New York, man. I just want to go to a county fair across the border," Jones told CBC News after waiting in line for recreational pot at Delta 9 in St. Vital on the store's opening day.
They made me feel like a drug addict, like a heroin addict.- Gary Jones
As recreational cannabis became legal on Wednesday, the federal Liberal government said it would waive the $631 fee and years-long waiting period for Canadians seeking a pardon after being found guilty of possessing 30 grams of pot or less.
The legislation still needs to be tabled and passed in Parliament.
After that happens, Jones said he plans to apply for a pardon.
"If it passes, I will be there the next day."
A pardon would absolve him of his 1978 charge.
He was, in his own words, a "dumb 18-year-old" when he smoked a joint at an empty bus shelter, outside the Curtis Hotel in Winnipeg.
The smoke had cleared, but the smell hadn't, when an elderly woman stepped into the shack and quickly walked out. Minutes later, police found their suspect, Jones remembered.
"I had my big winter parka on and the very first pocket they went into, there it was." He had about an ounce of pot, he says, or 28 grams — just under the 30-gram limit Canadians can now legally carry.
He never fought the criminal charge, which came with a fine of around $250.
"I certainly had no qualms about what happened, but it was silly," Jones says now.
He says the criminal record restricted him, as a young 18-year-old with some growing up to do.
"I felt like I did something wrong. I felt like, to me, they made such a severe nature of it — they made me feel like a drug addict, like a heroin addict."
Jones went on to become a Handi-Transit driver and later worked at a drop-in centre for teens, until his recent retirement.
"Anything the Canadian border control or U.S. border crossing has to say to me does not equate [to] what I did for the less fortunate people of the world," he said.
The step toward amnesty was also applauded by Sharon Perrault, a program manager with the John Howard Society of Manitoba, which advocates for reforms to the criminal justice system.
"I think it's wonderful," Perrault said of the plan.
"They're looking at the repercussions of past convictions and how that maybe has held people back in some way, so now they're saying, 'OK, we've legalized it. What can we do to remedy it?'"
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday an easier pardon process will "shed the burden and stigma" of a criminal record.
And waiving the fee will make a difference for Jones, who says he never applied for a pardon because he didn't want to pay for it. The fee was a considerable expense for a single father, he said.
"I raised two kids on my own for a lifetime so [hundreds of dollars] was a lot of money to me," Jones said.
"It was nice clothes for my kids. It was nice shoes for my kids."
With files from Austin Grabish