Pot of trou­bles boil­ing on the bor­der

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG SCH­MIDT

WIND­SOR — Stay out of our coun­try.

That’s the blunt mes­sage from the United States to Cana­di­ans who have ever used mar­i­juana recre­ation­ally. It comes on the eve of le­gal­iza­tion north of the bor­der and a Stat­sCan es­ti­mate of more than five mil­lion Cana­di­ans who will buy pot legally be­tween Wed­nes­day and the end of the year.

For months, Cana­di­ans had sought clar­i­fi­ca­tion on how vis­i­tors might be treated at the bor­der. In late-Septem­ber, the U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion re­sponded with an un­am­bigu­ous pub­lic state­ment: any­one even ad­mit­ting to hav­ing toked up at some point in their life “is in­ad­mis­si­ble to the United States.”

Life­long green­house farmer Cole Cac­ciav­il­lani said he’s never con­sumed pot, but he’s the co-founder of Leam­ing­ton’s Aphria Inc., a li­censed and govern­ment-reg­u­lated pro­ducer of cannabis prod­ucts, and un­til just days ago he was at risk of be­ing banned from the U.S.

This week, U.S fed­eral au­thor­i­ties qui­etly tweaked a rule stat­ing that any­one in­volved in the mar­i­juana in­dus­try, in­clud­ing Aphria’s in­vestors and its al­most 500 work­ers, were to be treated no dif­fer­ently than drug traf­fick­ers.

On Wed­nes­day, the agency’s Septem­ber state­ment was “up­dated” to now per­mit those in­volved pro­fes­sion­ally in Canada’s le­gal mar­i­juana in­dus­try to en­ter the U.S., but only for “rea­sons un­re­lated to the mar­i­juana in­dus­try,” and only for those who have never tried the prod­uct.

De­spite what the law will soon be north of the bor­der, and de­spite the grow­ing num­ber of states south of the bor­der de­cid­ing to also le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, “the sale, pos­ses­sion, pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana or the fa­cil­i­ta­tion of the afore­men­tioned re­main il­le­gal un­der U.S. fed­eral law,” ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

A ma­jor­ity of U.S. states — 31, as well as Wash­ing­ton D.C. — have le­gal­ized cannabis for medic­i­nal use, but Amer­i­can fed­eral law still lumps pot in the same cat­e­gory as heroin or crack.

For those tasked with pro­tect­ing the U.S fron­tier, noth­ing changes at the bor­der when Canada le­gal­izes pot Oct. 17.

“Change the word from mar­i­juana to co­caine, and how’d you ex­pect those (Amer­i­can cus­toms) of­fi­cers to re­spond at the bor­der?” said U.S. im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Len Saun­ders. His Blaine, Wash., le­gal prac­tice, lo­cated just blocks from the busiest bor­der cross­ing south of Van­cou­ver, B.C., is al­ready see­ing a boom in busi­ness as pot pasts catch up to a grow­ing num­ber of Cana­di­ans.

“Your govern­ment has failed to un­der­stand the con­se­quences on Cana­di­ans who cross the bor­der,” said Saun­ders, who vis­ited Ot­tawa last spring to ad­vise sen­a­tors of loom­ing po­ten­tial bor­der trou­bles fol­low­ing le­gal­iza­tion. “I warned them: ‘This is go­ing to get worse.’”

The ad­vice from the prime min­is­ter and Ot­tawa’s fed­eral min­is­ters has been for trav­ellers to be hon­est in all their an­swers at the bor­der, but Saun­ders said Cana­di­ans an­swer­ing in the af­fir­ma­tive to any ques­tion about pre­vi­ous pot use face life­time bans on vis­it­ing the U.S.

“That’s the worst ad­vice,” said Saun­ders, whose clients in­clude Olympic gold medal­list Ross Re­bagliati. Ly­ing and an­swer­ing ‘no’ when asked is just as bad, he added, es­pe­cially as U.S. Cus­toms of­fi­cers have the au­thor­ity to go through a po­ten­tial vis­i­tor’s cell­phone or lap­top and search that per­son’s in­ter­net pro­file and on­line so­cial and fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions (On­tario, Canada’s big­gest pot mar­ket, will only per­mit on­line pot pur­chases un­til at least next April).

Saun­ders, whose of­fice is al­ready get­ting one or two calls a day from Cana­di­ans deemed in­ad­mis­si­ble at the bor­der af­ter ad­mit­ting to pre­vi­ous pot use, ad­vises trav­ellers to sim­ply not an­swer the ques­tion and ac­cept be­ing turned around on that par­tic­u­lar day.

U.S. cus­toms of­fi­cers, said Saun­ders, are just “do­ing their jobs, en­forc­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law.”

What hap­pens af­ter Oct. 17 is “def­i­nitely a con­cern,” said Aphria’s Cac­ciav­il­lani, and it’s why Aphria had sought le­gal ad­vice and been in dis­cus­sions with govern­ment of­fi­cials on both sides of the bor­der, in­clud­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Ot­tawa. Cac­ciav­il­lani said he and his wife will con­tinue to visit nearby Detroit to watch pro­fes­sional sports or to go out for din­ner. “We’re not do­ing busi­ness in the U.S. — we’re not break­ing any laws,” he said.

Al­ways an­swer ques­tions hon­estly at the bor­der, said Cac­ciav­il­lani.

But the ad­vice is quite dif­fer­ent from Leo Lucier, a long-time Wind­sor pot ac­tivist who hopes to launch a le­git busi­ness once On­tario per­mits pri­vate re­tail sales next spring.

FILE PHOTO

Ve­hi­cles en­ter the Wind­sor-Detroit tun­nel on the Amer­i­can side of the bor­der, where Cana­di­ans open about their use of mar­i­juana could be in for a rough ride once recre­ational pot use be­comes le­gal in Canada next Wed­nes­day.

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