Cross-bor­der is­sues cloud laws on mar­i­juana use

Mar­i­juana still for­bid­den by feds in much of U.S.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Lor­net Turn­bull and Katie Zez­ima

Recre­ational mar­i­juana use is le­gal in Canada and Wash­ing­ton state, but guards are on alert.

BLAINE, Wash. — Recre­ational mar­i­juana has been le­gal here in Wash­ing­ton state since 2014. Adults just a few miles away in Canada also will be able to legally buy and smoke mar­i­juana for plea­sure start­ing in October.

But between them stands the U.S. bor­der, a thin mar­i­juana mil­i­ta­rized zone, where the drug will re­main for­bid­den by fed­eral law.

Though mar­i­juana will be le­gal for med­i­cal or recre­ational use in many places on ei­ther side of the 6,000-mile bor­der — in­clud­ing Alaska, Maine and Ver­mont — the U.S. govern­ment rou­tinely bars Cana­di­ans who admit to hav­ing used the drug from en­ter­ing the coun­try.

And U.S. cit­i­zens who try to cross back into the United States car­ry­ing mar­i­juana bought legally in Canada to states where it is le­gal to have it could be ar­rested at the bor­der cross­ings for pos­ses­sion — or drug smug­gling — and face stiff fines or years in jail.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has made clear that he is re­open­ing the door to greater fed­eral en­force­ment against mar­i­juana, and that agents on the U.S. bor­der will con­tinue to en­force fed­eral law.

“I think we’re go­ing to have a rough year-and-ahalf learn­ing curve as far as the cross-bor­der is­sues,” said Rino Bor­tolin, a city coun­cilor in Wind­sor, On­tario, just across the river from Detroit.

Few places will be as af­fected as Blaine, where In­ter­state 5 hits the Cana­dian bor­der, and Wind­sor, where the Detroit sky­line is vis­i­ble across the Detroit River. Thou­sands cross the bor­der each day at the two cities for work or other rea­sons — Wind­sor’s mayor said he of­ten ducks over to Detroit for lunch at a fa­vorite Thai res­tau­rant, travers­ing one of the na­tion’s busiest cross­ings for trade.

Wind­sor has long been a party des­ti­na­tion for young Amer­i­cans be­cause 19-yearolds can legally drink there, two years ear­lier than in the United States. The city is fully ex­pect­ing tourists of all ages to come smoke mar­i­juana, which is le­gal for med­i­cal pur­poses in Michi­gan; a ques­tion on the Novem­ber bal­lot asks Michi­gan­ders whether to make it le­gal for adult recre­ational use.

At Higher Lim­its Cannabis Lounge in Wind­sor, where adults smoke med­i­cal mar­i­juana while sit­ting on couches or bar stools and smok­ing de­vices, in­clud­ing bongs, are promi­nently dis­played, co-owner Jon Liedtke has big plans to wel­come Amer­i­can tourists.

“We def­i­nitely are not go­ing to miss out on the op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

Liedtke sees Canada as on the van­guard, just the sec­ond coun­try to na­tion­ally le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana af­ter Uruguay, which be­gan le­gal sales in 2017. But he wor­ries about U.S. law.

“All of the Amer­i­cans are go­ing to be wel­come. Get­ting back, though, is go­ing to be an is­sue.”

Mar­i­juana is le­gal for recre­ational use in nine states and the Dis­trict of Columbia, and 31 states al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana in vary­ing de­grees.

But the drug is pro­hib­ited un­der U.S. fed­eral law and is clas­si­fied as Sched­ule I, on par with heroin. Fed­eral law is ap­pli­ca­ble at the U.S. Canada bor­der, mean­ing the pos­ses­sion, dis­tri­bu­tion, sale and pro­duc­tion of mar­i­juana is il­le­gal there.

“Cross­ing the bor­der with mar­i­juana is pro­hib­ited and could po­ten­tially re­sult in seizure, fines, and ap­pre­hen­sion,” U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said in a state­ment.

The agency said it will con­tinue to de­tect the il­le­gal im­por­ta­tion of drugs and work with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties should some­one be sus­pected of driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence.

“CBP is al­ways con­cerned about crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity at our U.S. bor­ders. CBP of­fi­cers are the na­tion’s first line of de­fense, in­clud­ing pre­ven­tion of il­le­gal im­por­ta­tion of nar­cotics, in­clud­ing mar­i­juana. U.S. fed­eral law pro­hibits the im­por­ta­tion of mar­i­juana and CBP of­fi­cers will con­tinue to en­force that law.”

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion also can ask Cana­di­ans whether they have ever used drugs, and if they say yes or refuse to an­swer, they can be barred from en­ter­ing the United States for life.

Len Saun­ders, an immigration at­tor­ney with of­fices in Blaine, said a lot of Cana­di­ans have no idea that Wash­ing­ton state’s mar­i­juana laws hold no sway at the bor­der. He tes­ti­fied about the is­sue in front of Canada’s Se­nate, telling mem­bers that their coun­try needs to re­solve the mat­ter with the U.S. govern­ment and that Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, who ad­mit­ted to hav­ing smoked mar­i­juana in the past, would be in­el­i­gi­ble for en­try when he leaves of­fice and re­turns to be­ing a pri­vate ci­ti­zen.

Canada’s Of­fice of Pub­lic Safety min­is­ter, Ralph Goodale, said in a state­ment that he has dis­cussed changes in the law in “vir­tu­ally every con­ver­sa­tion with Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, in­clud­ing the pre­vi­ous and cur­rent Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity.”

U.S. au­thor­i­ties have said they have no plans to change their ques­tions af­ter cannabis be­comes le­gal in Canada.

There is a way around a life­time ban: Cana­di­ans can ap­ply for a $580 waiver, valid for between six months and five years, but they have to keep ap­ply­ing for as long as they want to keep trav­el­ing to the United States.

Saun­ders said that decades ago, he had one or two such cases a year; now he has one or two each week.

He said the typ­i­cal case in­volves young peo­ple who know mar­i­juana is le­gal in Wash­ing­ton and med­i­cal mar­i­juana is le­gal in Canada but don’t know that “by ad­mit­ting to smok­ing mar­i­juana, they are set­ting them­selves up for a life­time bar from en­ter­ing the U.S.”

In Wind­sor, ques­tions abound as to how le­gal­iza­tion and bor­der is­sues will play out. On­tario plans to open 40 prov­ince-run shops to sell mar­i­juana, but not all will be ready by October.

The city also is grap­pling with whether it wants to be a mar­i­juana des­ti­na­tion at all. Mayor Drew Dilkens re­mem­bers how, be­fore en­hanced se­cu­rity mea­sures were im­ple­mented af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks, 19and 20-year-olds would flood over from Detroit on week­ends and spill into the streets when the bars closed.

“I don’t want my city to be known as the pot tourism cen­ter of Canada,” Dilkens said, ac­knowl­edg­ing that many peo­ple will come for it, any­way. “If it is a trip mo­ti­va­tor, how do we get them to stay and en­joy other things?”

But some in Detroit aren’t even sure whether they will go to Canada and risk an in­ter­ac­tion with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. Less than an ounce of mar­i­juana is de­crim­i­nal­ized in the city, and many are ex­pect­ing le­gal­iza­tion to hap­pen statewide in Novem­ber.

Joe White, the head of com­mu­nity out­reach for Michi­gan NORML, the pro­mar­i­juana group, said he wants to open clubs where adults can pos­sess and smoke small amounts of mar­i­juana, which is per­mit­ted in Detroit.

He ad­vises peo­ple to wait out the Novem­ber referendum.

“Why should you put your free­dom in jeop­ardy when you just have to wait a few months?”


Jonah Komon, 24, ex­hales mar­i­juana at Higher Lim­its, where adults smoke med­i­cal mar­i­juana in Wind­sor, On­tario.

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