I was honored to speak this week with Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence concerning Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, insofar as it relates to Canada’s borders. Legalization hasn’t happened at the U.S. federal level, and this begs many questions about border travel after legalization. Increasingly, I am asked, “What happens when Canada legalizes marijuana for all to use, like in Washington State?” Parliament is now taking up the query, as it studies moving forward with Bill C-45.
There are still many unanswered questions. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and the U.S. Controlled Substances Act haven’t changed on marijuana, despite the sea change in legalization in many other jurisdictions, including Washington State and soon Canada. In our observation, this has led to issues for persons seeking admission or other immigration benefits, with some regularity.
The Senators had questions about how legalization might impact border traffic. My co-panelists were the Mayor of Windsor, Drew Dilkens, and Jonathan Blackham, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Canadian Trucking Association. Like me, they expressed concerns. These included possible slow-downs in inspections and increased wait-times; cannabis or cannabis residue being found increasingly in cars and trucks; trusted traveler and FAST interviews; and the queries made by U.S. officers. The Mayor and I both emphasized the need to educate the public on the conflicts of laws, concerning immigration and cananbis.
I used my introductory remarks to lay out the bases for inadmissibility to the United States that involve cannabis. Even if Canada legalizes cannabis, there are several bases for inadmissibility that may still involve cannabis and affect persons seeking admission. These include admitting to past violations of a Controlled Substance law; health-related grounds related to being deemed a drug abuser or drug addict; national security grounds for inadmissibility relating to seeking entry for an illegal purpose (e.g. to purchase cannabis in a state where it is legalized); misrepresentation related to cannabis questions; involvement in cannabis-related businesses associated with the U.S. (e.g. aiding/abetting illicit trafficking); and customs violations for having cannabis in a vehicle or on a person.
The United States laws on admissibility are more complicated than many might imagine. We know, since this is what we do daily. As I told the Committee, cannabis continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, making it as a matter of law equal to cocaine, heroin, or L.S.D. A Schedule 1 substance is one which has no medical purpose and has a high propensity of abuse. I also acknowledged to the Committee that this is not the popular opinion of the majority of the States, based on voter initiatives. The conflict of federal and state laws will also likely present an issue at the border, should Canada legalize. I said I think there will be “growing pains” as the public and the border adjusts to such a significant change in Canadian law.
The hearing garnered significant attention in the Canadian media, with stories appearing in Global News, CBC, the Windsor Star, and many other outlets. I anticipate the border and legalization will continue to be a matter of public interest to both Canada and the United States, if Bill C-45 moves forward.