Could Canada’s politicians be denied U.S. entry because they smoked pot?
VANCOUVER – A steady stream of Canadian politicians have been coming out of the cannabis closet and admitting marijuana use since Liberal leader Justin Trudeau spoke about his pot-smoking past.
In saying he had smoked weed on a number of occasions, including since becoming an MP, Trudeau sparked a debate about the legalization of marijuana in this country.
Conservatives have taken the opportunity to criticize Trudeau’s morals, but his openness could bring about more significant repercussions for the 41-year-old MP who hopes to be Canada’s next prime minister.
Just ask British Columbia Institute of Technology student Jess Goldstein.
She was denied entry to the U.S. over the Labour Day weekend, as she tried to head into Washington state — where it’s now legal to possess marijuana — to attend a music festival.
The U.S border official asked Goldstein and her three friends if they had ever smoked marijuana, to which Goldstein answered honestly and said she had smoked pot the previous weekend.
That led to a three-hour interrogation about her history with weed, despite there being no trace of any drugs or paraphernalia in her car.
“I have no criminal charges. No instances with the law. No history of anything illegal,” she told Global News. “I’m just a student that smokes some pot.”
“I’m really an honest person and I’ve had that question asked from me before when I’ve crossed and I’ve always been honest,” she said. “They’ve never said no before, so why this time?”
Global News contacted U.S.Customs and Border Patrol about Goldstein’s story, but a spokesperson said the agency does not comment on individual cases.
Goldstein was told she’d have to pay $600 to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, which you can get if you have only one conviction involving less than 30 grams of marijuana, in order to be allowed into the U.S.
She’s a Canadian citizen, but her father is American and lives in California.
She doesn’t have any convictions. But, she admitted smoking pot, thus possessing the drug, which essentially means she admitted to committing a crime.
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So what does that mean for Canadian politicians including Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and others — who spoke (very) openly about having smoked dope at one time or another?
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Henry Chang said it is possible to be banned from entering the U.S. for simply admitting to an offence. “Which is probably what happened in [this] case,” he said.
He said it happens “frequently enough that I can say it’s not an isolated situation.”
Chang said it’s entirely possible Trudeau and the other politicians who spoke publicly about pot use could run into issues crossing the border.
“An admission made to someone other than a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer isn’t going to result in a bar,” he told Global News.
But if those officers have been keeping up on the news, they may be inclined to ask questions.
“Let’s say Rob Ford shows up at Toronto airport and wants to get into the United States, if [the officer] is aware of an admission made by the mayor in public [the officer] is going to ask the question,” he explained. “When the mayor has to respond to that question… and that’s when the person becomes inadmissible.”
Chang said being a high-profile person won’t necessarily help politicians either.
“Officially there isn’t supposed to be any sort of special treatment. It’s a matter of are the border officers aware of the violation,” he said. “If they are, they’ll have to apply the law and bar the person.”
U.S. immigration lawyer and former immigration officer Rosanna Berardi said there are “some workarounds.”
“For the government to hang their hat on that and say ‘You can’t come in because 20 years ago at a concert you smoked some joints,’ they have to do a little bit of work on their end,” Berardi said in a Skype interview from her office in Buffalo, NY.
She said she has successfully challenged attempts at barring people because of such admissions.
Berardi said she’ll ask customs officials if they gave her clients “a definition of the actual offence” or “the essential elements of the offence.”
“The answer is always no because they don’t have time at the border to do that,” she said.
Trudeau, Ford, Wynne, Dexter, et al could probably afford to challenge any potential ban on them entering the states, if that were to happen.
But Goldstein is still deciding what to do.
“I’m a student living on a student loan,” she said. “[I] don’t have $600 to get this done and get [the] waiver.”
*With files from Robin Gill
© Shaw Media, 2013