Cannabis Amnesty’s heartbreaking portrayal of cannabis convictions

Who: Cannabis Amnesty, with Cossette for strategy and creative, Magic Circle Workshop for production (directed by Christo Anesti).

What: “Legalize Us,” an evocative short film depicting the ways 500,000 Canadians with cannabis-related criminal records—particularly those from racialized and Indigenous communities—suffer from those convictions, even though cannabis has been legal for four years.

When & Where: There’s no paid media behind this one, but the film was posted online late last week and is being pushed out through organic social and in-store at some dispensaries as of June 6.

Why: Canadians convicted for simple cannabis possession prior to 2018 are considered a convicted criminal, making it difficult to find work or get loans, and even resulting in the loss of custody of their children. The problem is particularly pronounced for racialized communities, who were overrepresented in terms of cannabis prosecutions, and are underrepresented in the legal cannabis industry with just 3% of industry leaders identifying as Black or Indigenous.

Cannabis Amnesty says it is “fighting to clear cannabis-related criminal records and heal the scars left by the failed war on drugs.”

“The call to ‘Legalize Us’ represents the voices of the 500,000 individuals who are being left behind, locked out of opportunities, and cast aside by society,” said Annamaria Enenajor, executive director of Cannabis Amnesty, in a release. “We partnered with Cossette and Magic Circle Workshop to create this film because we believe passionately that art and advocacy can change public perception and, ultimately, our laws.”

Cossette worked with Cannabis Amnesty on a new brand positioning and identity which launched in February. There is also educational social content, and other projects in the works to follow up the “Legalize Us” film: “This is the beginning of a rallying cry for Cannabis Amnesty with the spirit of protest at the heart,” said Anthony Atkinson, executive creative director, Cossette.

How: With a vivid and evocative short film (3:45) that blends reality and metaphor to depict the long-term damage caused by a simple cannabis possession conviction.

The film opens with a young Black man anxiously on his way to a job interview at a law firm. Through a series of flashbacks, the viewer learns his story: He’s a law school grad, but struggling financially; a father to a young girl, and son to a proud mother. He’s also been convicted of cannabis possession.

When his name is called, and he goes to enter the office for the interview, he walks into an invisible barrier. As hard as he tries, he can’t even get through the door because of his conviction.

Eventually he falls to the floor battered and bloodied, and the super appears to deliver the call to action: “While many of us reap the rewards of legalized cannabis, over 500,000 Canadians still live with the scars of prohibition. Help us make things right. Legalize Us.”

“In conjunction with the new brand launch, we needed an emotional piece that would coincide with the education strategy,” Atkinson told The Message. “The long-form film is necessary to create empathy and emotion in an attempt to humanize the victims of prohibition, reminding our audience that these are real people with real families stuck in a society where cannabis is now legal.”

About Cannabis Amnesty: The not-for-profit was formed in 2018 and has four main areas of focus:

  1. Advocating for justice reform: Lobbying efforts that push for justice reform, including full cannabis amnesty, the full decriminalization of cannabis, procedural and substantive legal reform around the prosecution and sentencing of cannabis offences, as well as compassionate and health-based solutions to other drug crimes;’
  2. Addressing collateral consequences of cannabis convictions: Develop public educational resources, advocacy campaigns and programming that address barriers to employment, education, housing, travel and volunteer work that exist because of cannabis conviction records.
  3. Challenging the legal industry: Work with industry leaders to encourage and promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry in Canada.
  4. Challenging the social stigma associated with cannabis convictions: Challenge the notion that people who have cannabis convictions on their records are bad people. There are 500,000 of them– they are our neighbours, our friends and our colleagues.

And we quote: “There’s a lack of empathy for those who live with convictions for cannabis-related offences… We thought if we could make people feel even a small percentage of the pain and frustration they feel, then maybe people would actually care enough to do something.” —Anthony Atkinson, executive creative director, Cossette


David Brown