PARDON Profile: Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah
PARDON is a partnership between DOJA and Cannabis Amnesty. The campaign brings together many of the brightest minds and passionate advocates in an effort to provide a mass pardon for individuals with minor non-violent cannabis possession convictions.
As Director of Research for Cannabis Amnesty, Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is responsible for generating, locating and sharing information relating to the individual and social harms caused by cannabis prohibition, as well as the strategies that can be implemented to mitigate these harms.
An assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto (U of T), Dr. Owusu-Bempah brings a passion for social justice and experience to the campaign, having spent over 10 years engaging in cannabis-related policy and research work. He holds a PhD in criminology from U of T and has experience consulting for various levels of government. In addition, he has served as a member of the Toronto Police Service’s Black Community-Police Consultative Committee and the Service’s Recruiting Coalition.
Born in the United Kingdom to a Ghanaian father and British mother, Owusu-Bempah’s interest in criminology began when his family immigrated to Canada. Just 9-years-old, he became enamoured with his neighbour, a retired cop. “He had a gun and a fast car. For a kid coming from the UK, where the cops mostly walk the beat wearing funny hats, this was super appealing,” he recalls. After graduating high school, Owusu-Bempah studied criminology at Carleton, but soon learned “that the supposed bad guys the cops were going after weren't all bad guys.” An experience he likens to understanding the lyrics of “acclaimed poet Tupac: ‘Instead of poverty, they've got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.’”
Refocusing his interest towards policy, Owusu-Bempah earned a Master’s in Criminology from U of T before holding positions with the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, where his portfolio included cannabis and impaired driving.
Frustrated by the bureaucracy in the provincial government, Owusu-Bempah soon returned to academia, earning his PhD before beginning his academic career an assistant professor in criminal justice at Indiana University, Bloomington. In 2016, he returned to U of T and continued to focus his work on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice.
Dr. Owusu-Bempah is frequently sought out by the media to provide his insight on various topics related to his research interests. He has also published recently in academic journals such as Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology. He is a leading voice on matters relating to policing, justice and social inequality and believes that cannabis legalization should “aim to repair the harms caused by the war on drugs.”
Support the work of Dr. Owusu-Bempah by signing the PARDON petition and purchasing limited-edition PARDON merchandise from pardon.life–100% of the proceeds will advance the efforts of Cannabis Amnesty.
Written by Jon Dekel
Photo Credit: Diana Tyszko