It should go without saying that Canadians shouldn’t be banned from entering the United States due to previous marijuana use. It should also go without saying that if someone works in the Canadian cannabis industry, and is not bringing products across the border, they also should not be banned from entering the U.S.
Starting Oct. 17, 2018, recreational cannabis will be legal for purchase and consumption in Canada. The industry is projected to bring in billions of dollars in revenue, leading many Canadians to jump into the upcoming green rush, taking jobs, starting businesses and scooping up stocks. And, naturally, more Canadians are bound to smoke weed.
As nationwide legalization rapidly approaches, Canadian citizens unfamiliar with the cannabis industry have been closely watching all marijuana-related news. When the Toronto Star picked up a Politico report on Sept. 13, 2018, that a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official said that anyone who uses cannabis, works in the cannabis sector, or invests in a cannabis business will risk being banned from entering the U.S., my email was full of messages asking, “Can you believe this?”
Unfortunately, I can.
Put aside the fact that any person who has consumed cannabis on Canadian soil, regardless of whether it was legal, doesn’t mean they have committed — or will commit — a crime in the U.S.
The real reason CBP authorities are harassing Canadians at the border is because the unreconciled tension that exists between states that have legalized cannabis use and the federal government’s policies on marijuana. Until the Trump administration reconciles the fact that 31 states have legalized cannabis use and that attitudes towards cannabis are shifting in America, Canada will receive drug war-era consequences for its legalization initiatives.
Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should stand up for the legal cannabis industry the country has worked hard to build and regulate. I’m not alone in this sentiment, as some of my acquaintances in the cannabis industry have agreed privately.
But Trudeau has shown an unwillingness to push the U.S. on the issue. Trudeau discussed the issue in a September 2017 press conference when he stated, “Canadians appreciate that we don’t let other countries or other leaders dictate who or how we let people into our country, so I’m not going to tell Americans how to make decisions about who they let into their country, either.”
It’s interesting to note that Trudeau has openly and unapologetically admitted to smoking weed — illegally, by the way — while he was a member of Parliament, and he doesn’t seem to have any problems entering the United States on his diplomatic passport.
Trudeau is turning his back on Canadians who have chosen to participate in the legal cannabis industry, and sending a message to the U.S. that it’s admissible.
“If you are going to be barred based on your job, what have you done wrong?” said Heather Segal, owner and senior attorney with the Toronto-based Segal Immigration Law practice, in an interview with Marijuana.com. “It’s legal in Canada, so where’s the crime?”
Segal believes this policy seems to be directed with intention against Canada. After all, other countries with progressive marijuana laws aren’t subject to the same scrutiny. Many people regularly fly to and from Amsterdam without the same kind of harassment and potential banishment after returning from the Netherlands.
Segal also made note that the minimum legal drinking age in Canada is 19 — 18 in some provinces — but it is 21 in the U.S. Why aren’t Canadians between the ages of 18-20 barred from America if they have consumed alcohol legally or illegally at some point?
“You can’t have it both ways,” Segal said. But the U.S., above all logic and fairness, believes otherwise.
The Dark Reality of Being a Cannabis Refugee
While this glaring double standard on behalf of the United States has received severe condemnation from those who receive paychecks from the Canadian cannabis industry (myself included), there is a much darker reality to this border disruption.
The personal impact of receiving a lifetime, or even temporary, ban from the U.S. means banned Canadians cannot visit their families or attend weddings, funerals, other important life events, and other personal issues. Sadly, through her work a as an immigration lawyer, Segal is all too familiar with these problems.
“I had a case on my desk this morning. I had a guy who was headed to the States, going to a concert, and he was stopped by U.S. Immigration. They asked him what he did [for a living]and he told them that he was working in the cannabis industry,” Segal recounted. “He was part of a legal business that was growing medical marijuana, completely licensed and legal in Canada, and his purpose in the United States was entirely unrelated to cannabis. Once they found out that he was working in the cannabis industry, they barred him from the United States permanently.”
A Fair, Logical Approach to the Cannabis US and Canadian Border Problem
Segal believes that a fair, logical solution exists, even if the U.S. federal government has yet to adopt such a policy. “The middle-ground is if you are going to the United States for purposes unrelated to cannabis, you should be able to go into the United States.”
Shy of the U.S. actually enacting federal cannabis reform, which is highly unlikely at this time, this seems like a fair balance and a way through a complicated issue.
One final thought that hopefully provides some comfort: Cannabis legalization is in its infancy.
We have a plant that was hastily and ignorantly prohibited almost a century ago, and it will take time for marijuana to be fully reintegrated into society both in Canada and in the U.S., but I, for one, am confident change will happen and these issues at the border are temporary.
Just how temporary is anyone’s guess.