Article by Patrick Cain, Global News
Cannabis use may be legal in Canada, but if U.S. border guards find out about it, a person could have their Nexus pass taken away or not granted in the first place, secret instructions issued to managers at U.S. border posts say.
“If an alien admits to the use of marijuana (post legalization) he or she is technically admissible to the U.S., but would not be eligible for a Trusted Traveller Program,” the instructions say.
A software developer on the West Coast, who did not want to be identified for professional reasons, found out about the rule the hard way.
A dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, he went to renew his Nexus card at the Vancouver airport, a process that needs interviews with both Canadian and U.S. officials. The Canadian interview went smoothly, but the trouble began with the U.S. one.
“He just started asking rapid-fire questions: ‘Have you ever had a DUI?’ He was just looking for something,” he said.
“Finally he asked, ‘Have you ever smoked marijuana?’ He kind of curved his shoulders and looked at me.
“I told him I tried it when it became legal in Canada, but I don’t have any desire for it. I don’t like marijuana.”
Later he got an e-mail saying his renewal had been denied on the basis that he is “not a low-risk person.”
“The worst I’ve ever gotten is a speeding ticket,” he says. “I can’t believe this is actually happening to me. Even though it’s federally prohibited in the U.S., it’s legal in Canada. How can you hold that against me? It doesn’t make any sense.”
The Customs and Border Protection policy creates a dangerous trap for people who don’t see a problem with admitting to legal cannabis use and are then surprised to find their pass taken away for life, says immigration lawyer Len Saunders.
“I get lots of phone calls from people who run into issues with the Nexus program,” he says. “As a U.S. attorney right at the border, they’ll call me and say, ‘I had this really weird situation that happened, I was conditionally approved, I went into the Nexus office, and I was basically interrogated by an American officer on my legal use of cannabis in Canada, and I walked away basically being told I wasn’t eligible.’
“The people are dumbfounded. When I tell them there’s really not a lot I can do, they’re shocked.”
It’s been clear that a policy along these lines has been enforced, lawyers familiar with the issue say, but a written copy hasn’t been public until recently, when it surfaced during a lawsuit.
The language used internally is clearer and harsher than in CBP’s media talking points about the issue, which use words like “could” and “may.” It’s also much clearer that it’s referring to legal use, not illegal use before October of 2018; the public talking points could be read either way. It also appears to include medical use as a ground for refusal.
Nexus cards allow pre-screened travellers to cross the border easily, often skipping long lines.
The U.S. rule also applies to the less well-known FAST program, which is designed to let commercial truck drivers cross the border easily.
“Usually it’s someone who’s younger, in their teens or early 20s,” Saunders says. “The officers will frequently ask if you’ve ever used cannabis in the past. A lot of times people admit to it, whether they’ve done it before legalization in Canada or after.