Criminal Law

Crossing U.S. border a catch-22 for those in cannabis business

By Staff

A plan by the U.S. border agency to ban visitors for life if they have any connection to the now-legal Canadian marijuana industry puts travellers in a catch-22 and will cause hardship for American border states, says London criminal lawyer Carolynn Conron.

A senior official with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (BPA) recently stated that Canadians crossing the border will not be allowed in if they admit to ever having smoked cannabis, worked in a marijuana-related job, or owned stocks in the industry. All of these would garner a lifetime ban from entry into the United States, says Conron, founder and principal of Conron Law Professional Corporation.

“I think this policy imposes a real hardship on Canadians as well as U.S. border states in terms of their bottom line, especially those that rely on revenue from tourism,” she says.

Even though some states have legalized cannabis, the border is under U.S. federal jurisdiction, which still considers marijuana to be an illegal drug, Conron explains.

“The policy makes no sense,” she tells, and will deter Canadians who have family or friends in the U.S. — and those who normally go Christmas shopping across the border at this time of year — from crossing.

“I think as a citizen that it’s very concerning because people are engaging in a legal activity and yet they’re denied entry to the U.S. Traditionally, the two countries have enjoyed a great relationship, lots of cross-border shopping, and visits to friends and family that live there — and now all of a sudden there’s this spectre of permanent inadmissibility based on something that is a legal activity in the country of origin.”

The catch-22 comes in because, if a person lies, they are also subject to a lifetime ban, says Conron, citing a statement by Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the BPA’s office of field operations, to the news website Politico.

“It forces honest and law-abiding people into a dilemma. If you’re honest and say, 'Yes, I’ve consumed cannabis' — which we know statistically a large number of people have — then you may be denied entry," she says. "But if you lie and say, 'No I haven’t,' and then they get you to confess to the lie, that’s enough to earn a lifetime ban.”

Refusing to answer questions will also result in a denial of entry, Conron says, but probably won't result in a lifetime ban.

“The border agencies have broad discretionary power to exclude anyone. Crossing the border is a privilege, not a right. We are two sovereign nations with different laws.”

At a recent conference Conron attended, lawyers were told U.S. border agents were not planning to automatically question Canadians about marijuana.

This would be a followup question if they have any suspicions.

"However, we know from experience that some people are more likely to arouse suspicion for entirely improper reasons, such as being a minority or looking impoverished or having a certain look that people stereotype,” Conron says.

“You are more likely to be questioned if you have obvious signs of cannabis use — crumbs on the dashboard, the odour of marijuana,” she says, pointing out that sniffer dogs can be used.

One of Conron's major concerns is that if a person denies marijuana use, border agents can pressure them into admitting they lied by threatening to detain them for hours for a drug test or a lie-detector test.

“So if you’re going to lie — which I can’t advise — be prepared to face serious questioning, and the lie could be worse than the confession to marijuana involvement,” she says.

Border agents routinely ask what people do for a living, she says, and if they say they work in the cannabis industry, they will not be allowed to enter. The same goes for investors in marijuana companies, Conron rays.

“They consider involvement in the cannabis industry profiting from the proceeds of crime,” she says, adding it’s unlikely that they will check your stock portfolio.

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