Article by Sen. Paul McIntyre, The Province
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.
In response to this, 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 on the national security and defence committee 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.”
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.