New cannabis laws cre­ate new border is­sues for some

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Agriculture -

Cana­di­ans in­volved in the le­gal cannabis in­dus­try are fac­ing deep pot­holes on the road to en­ter­ing the United States — and im­mi­gra­tion lawyers say the fed­eral gov­ern­ment needs to help them nav­i­gate a way through.

The U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion agency sent tremors through the coun­try’s bur­geon­ing cannabis sec­tor last week with word that le­gal­iza­tion in Canada won’t change the fact that Amer­i­can laws treat mar­i­juana as a banned sub­stance, and in­dus­try in­sid­ers as drug traf­fick­ers.

De­spite the fact that some ju­ris­dic­tions in North Amer­ica per­mit the use of med­i­cal and recre­ational mar­i­juana, U.S. fed­eral law con­tin­ues to pro­hibit its sale, pos­ses­sion, pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion, an agency spokesper­son said in a state­ment.

“Con­se­quently, cross­ing the border or ar­riv­ing at a U.S. port of en­try in vi­o­la­tion of this law may re­sult in de­nied ad­mis­sion, seizure, fines, and ap­pre­hen­sion,” the state­ment said.

“Work­ing in or fa­cil­i­tat­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the le­gal mar­i­juana in­dus­try in U.S. states where it is deemed le­gal or Canada may af­fect a for­eign na­tional’s ad­mis­si­bil­ity to the United States.”

Hav­ing fast-track, fre­quent-trav­eller sta­tus such as a Nexus card is no guar­an­tee ei­ther, warned Jon Jur­main, an im­mi­gra­tion lawyer based in Thorold, Ont., out­side St. Catharines.

“I have a U.S. cit­i­zen client who had his Nexus pulled be­cause a dog smelled pot on his pas­sen­ger, and my client an­swered a ques­tion about smoking pot and ad­mit­ted to pre­vi­ously smoking pot,” Jur­main said in an email.

“No pot was found.”

The rev­e­la­tions are based on ex­ist­ing laws and poli­cies and do not rep­re­sent any change in how Amer­i­can border of­fi­cials ap­proach the is­sue of cannabis. They were first re­ported re­cently by Politico Pro Canada, a divi­sion of the U.S. web­site Politico.

Border Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Bill Blair said Tues­day he doesn’t be­lieve any­thing is go­ing to change at the border af­ter Oct. 17, the date the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has set for le­gal­iza­tion to take ef­fect.

“My ex­pec­ta­tion is that border se­cu­rity agents on both sides of the border will con­tinue to do their job to pro­tect the sovereignty and se­cu­rity of their coun­try in the way in which they have been do­ing it in the past, and my ex­pec­ta­tion is that it will con­tinue.”

Lawyers with ex­per­tise in help­ing peo­ple cross the Canada-U.S. border say it should fall to Ottawa — not trav­ellers who are tak­ing part in a per­fectly le­gal busi­ness en­ter­prise — to help pave the way.

Henry Chang, a Toronto-based im­mi­gra­tion lawyer with Blaney McMurtry who spe­cial­izes in CanadaU.S. mat­ters, says the two coun­tries have con­sulted pro­duc­tively on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues in the past dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump, and this time should be no dif­fer­ent.

“The best chance these in­di­vid­u­als have is for the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to pres­sure the U.S. gov­ern­ment to is­sue a pol­icy di­rec­tive say­ing that em­ploy­ees and in­vestors in Cana­dian cannabis com­pa­nies are not sub­ject to the con­trolled sub­stance traf­fick­ing bar,” Chang said.

The U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pa­trol agency in­sists it has no plans to ask any pot-spe­cific ques­tions with­out cause.

But Ottawa im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Warren Cre­ates said he fears some agents might find it a use­ful catch-all to deny ad­mit­tance to any­one they de­cide shouldn’t be al­lowed in.

“If a U.S. border of­fi­cer has some rea­son not to like the per­son in front of them who is be­ing ex­am­ined for en­try — some rea­son — then that of­fi­cer is more likely to ask the ques­tion, ‘Have you ever been a user of cannabis or been in­volved in the cannabis in­dus­try?’

Cre­ates said he doesn’t ex­pect the ques­tion to be asked more fre­quently, “but I think an of­fi­cer faced with an un­like­able per­son who has not yet pre­sented grounds for in­ad­mis­si­bil­ity . . . would be more in­clined to use that tool.”

Ul­ti­mately, only Canada’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment has the cred­i­bil­ity and the ne­go­ti­at­ing heft to con­vince the U.S. to es­tab­lish clear guide­lines, Chang sug­gested.

“If Canada is go­ing to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana com­pa­nies, it needs to en­sure that em­ploy­ees of and in­vestors in those com­pa­nies are not given life­time bans as con­trolled sub­stance traf­fick­ers,” he said.

Al­lan Re­wak, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cannabis Coun­cil of Canada, agreed Ottawa should be press­ing the U.S. to re­con­sider what he called a “very un­for­tu­nate” and un­nec­es­sary hard line on le­gal mar­i­juana users and in­dus­try mem­bers.

“As long as Cana­di­ans are not do­ing any­thing to vi­o­late U.S. laws, cannabis will be a per­fectly le­gal and vi­able busi­ness in Canada and should be seen as any other busi­ness,” Re­wak said.

“We’d like Canada to em­pha­size to our Amer­i­can part­ners that there re­ally is no rea­son for this pro­hi­bi­tion.”

In the mean­time, com­mon sense should pre­vail for any­one try­ing to en­ter the U.S., said Jur­main.

“I see the dogs on both sides of the border out sniff­ing cars,” he said.

“Do not smell like pot. Do not have peo­ple in your car who smell like pot. (And) ob­vi­ously, don’t have pot.”

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