Marijuana puts ac­cess to U.S. un­der a cloud

Border is­sue ig­nored, says Sen. Paul McIn­tyre.

Windsor Star - - OPINION -

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to le­gal­ize marijuana is now be­fore the Se­nate. Much of the tes­ti­mony that sen­a­tors are hear­ing is dis­turb­ing, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the im­pli­ca­tions for the Canada-U.S. border. Of­fi­cially, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment claims that there will be no im­pact on cross-border trade and travel once pot is le­gal­ized in Canada. It has as­serted that since many U.S. states have lib­er­al­ized their own marijuana laws, le­gal­iza­tion in Canada isn’t a big is­sue. How­ever, marijuana will re­main il­le­gal un­der U.S. law and it’s the fed­eral gov­ern­ment that con­trols the border.

Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale told sen­a­tors that Cana­di­ans sim­ply need to be cau­tious when cross­ing the border. “If you are driv­ing up to the U.S. border and smok­ing marijuana in your ve­hi­cle, you are re­ally ask­ing for a sec­ondary in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said. “That is very fool­ish be­hav­iour.”

This sim­plis­tic anal­ogy is too flip­pant about how marijuana le­gal­iza­tion may be treated by U.S. au­thor­i­ties.

Sen­a­tors have heard from U.S. and Cana­dian wit­nesses that the mere use of marijuana at some point in an in­di­vid­ual’s his­tory can be grounds for be­ing barred en­try into the U.S. for life. Ques­tions posed by Amer­i­can of­fi­cers, which lead to an ad­mis­sion of pot use in the past, can trig­ger such a ban.

What should con­cern Cana­di­ans is that wit­nesses have told sen­a­tors that le­gal­iza­tion in Canada will not pro­vide any pro­tec­tion at the border when ques­tioned about past marijuana use. The depart­ment of global af­fairs be­lat­edly ac­knowl­edged this when it tabled its “key mes­sages” to trav­ellers with re­spect to cross­ing the border. Among those mes­sages was, “You may be de­nied en­try to a foreign coun­try if you have pre­vi­ously used cannabis prod­ucts, whether for med­i­cal pur­poses or not, even if you used them legally in Canada.”

Any­thing re­lated to marijuana at the ports of en­try is the kiss of death.

Len Saun­ders, who has prac­tised im­mi­gra­tion law in the U.S. for over a decade, told sen­a­tors that he han­dles one to two new cases ev­ery week from Cana­di­ans who have been banned from en­ter­ing the U.S. for past marijuana use. He an­tic­i­pates that such cases are likely to in­crease af­ter le­gal­iza­tion.

The prob­lems will likely be even more se­ri­ous for Cana­di­ans who in­vest in or are in­volved with a le­gal marijuana busi­ness in Canada. Saun­ders told sen­a­tors that “with re­gard to peo­ple who work in the in­dus­try … I’ve told peo­ple you can’t do that be­cause it’s il­le­gal fed­er­ally (in the U.S.) In Canada, when it gets le­gal­ized, my feel­ing is any­one in­volved in that in­dus­try is sub­ject to (be­ing) de­nied en­try into the United States.… Any­thing re­lated to marijuana at the ports of en­try is the kiss of death.”

In­creased U.S. scru­tiny at the border could con­trib­ute to line­ups and de­lays. Were this to oc­cur, the reper­cus­sions for busi­nesses, par­tic­u­larly those de­pen­dent on “just-in-time de­liv­ery,” could be se­ri­ous. Com­pletely in­ad­e­quate con­sid­er­a­tion has been given to these issues by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment. Cana­dian of­fi­cials are still only “in dis­cus­sion” with U.S. au­thor­i­ties on these issues.

In a re­port tabled by the se­nate com­mit­tee this week, it was rec­om­mended that the gov­ern­ment should im­me­di­ately take steps to ad­dress this prob­lem.

First, the gov­ern­ment should seek to se­cure some form of con­crete as­sur­ance from Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties that Cana­di­ans will not be pun­ished at the border for do­ing some­thing that will be le­gal un­der Cana­dian law. Sec­ond, the gov­ern­ment must be hon­est with Cana­di­ans about the con­se­quences of le­gal­iza­tion — any past marijuana use may be grounds for be­ing in­ad­mis­si­ble for life to the U.S.

The gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach is the op­po­site of this. It’s rolling the dice and hop­ing for the best. This is un­ac­cept­able since it’s le­gal­iza­tion it­self that now risks ex­pos­ing Cana­di­ans to in­creased scru­tiny at the border.

Until it’s able to as­sure Cana­di­ans that their safety and se­cu­rity will be pro­tected when they travel, the gov­ern­ment should re­frain from blindly press­ing ahead.

Sen. Paul McIn­tyre is a mem­ber of the Se­nate stand­ing com­mit­tee on na­tional se­cu­rity and defence.

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