Pot work­ers? Maybe. Users? No, U.S. says

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG SCH­MIDT

WIND­SOR — The blunt mes­sage from the United States to Cana­di­ans who have ever used mar­i­juana recre­ation­ally? Stay out of our coun­try.

It comes as Stat­sCan es­ti­mated more than five mil­lion Cana­di­ans will buy pot legally be­tween Wednesday, when it is le­gal­ized, and the end of the year.

For months, Cana­di­ans had sought clar­i­fi­ca­tion on how vis­i­tors might be treated at the U.S. bor­der. Last month, the U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion re­sponded with a pub­lic state­ment. Any­one ad­mit­ting to hav­ing used pot at any point in their life “is in­ad­mis­si­ble to the United States.”

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

Early this week, U.S fed­eral au­thor­i­ties said any­one in­volved in the mar­i­juana in­dus­try, in­clud­ing Aphria’s in­vestors and its al­most 500 work­ers, were to be treated like drug traf­fick­ers. On Wednesday, the agency’s Septem­ber state­ment was “up­dated” to 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 le­gal­iza­tion in Canada and a grow­ing num­ber of U.S. states, “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 blocks from the busiest bor­der cross­ing south of Van­cou­ver, al­ready is 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 said, 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 al­ready is get­ting one or two calls a day from Cana­di­ans deemed in­ad­mis­si­ble at the bor­der af­ter ad­mit­ting to pre­vi­ous pot use, ad­vises trav­ellers not to 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 has 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 dif­fer­ent from Leo Lucier, a long­time Wind­sor pot ac­tivist who hopes to launch a le­git busi­ness once On­tario per­mits pri­vate re­tail sales next spring.

“If you want to cross the bor­der, lie. I’d lie through my teeth, 100 per cent,” he said.

While not an ad­vo­cate of pot use, long­time Wind­sor im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Drew Porter said there’s “com­mon sense” in the evolv­ing laws of Canada and in­di­vid­ual states, but it’s one that is “not rec­on­ciled” with cur­rent U.S. fed­eral law.

“There’s go­ing to be cul­tural prob­lems as a re­sult . . . and it’s go­ing to be in our face here in Wind­sor and along the bor­der,” he said.

“This has the po­ten­tial to be­come un­man­age­able,” said Porter. “It comes down to whether or not you’re asked the wrong ques­tion by (U.S. bor­der agents).”

While U.S. Cus­toms agents have a duty to pro­tect their bor­der, and en­ter­ing that coun­try re­mains a priv­i­lege and not a right for for­eign trav­ellers, Porter de­scribed it as “overkill” when two young Cana­dian women he rep­re­sents were slapped with life­time bans on en­ter­ing the U.S. af­ter ad­mit­ting they’d once smoked pot.

It’s a sen­si­tive po­lit­i­cal is­sue. U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials, as well as the of­fice of Bill Blair, Canada’s min­is­ter of bor­der se­cu­rity and or­ga­nized crime re­duc­tion, did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment by Post­media News for this story.

Last month, Blair told re­porters it’s not Canada’s place to “dic­tate or tell the United States or any other coun­try how they man­age their bor­der.”

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