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Do not tell U.S. border guards that you’ve smoked pot, despite what some say: lawyer

Canadian lawyer questions government advice to be honest at U.S. border
WATCH: An immigration lawyer is casting serious doubt on some federal government advice to be honest and admit to smoking marijuana if asked at the U.S. border.

A high-ranking Canadian politician has advised Canadians to be honest about their pot use when they show up at the U.S. border., even if that means being turned away.

A U.S.-based immigration lawyer thinks that’s a terrible idea.

WATCH: Mark Holland, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety tells Vassy Kapelos, Canadians need to tell the truth at the border and his government is hopeful there will be a thinning at the border for those crossing into the U.S.

Government in close contact with U.S. officials on cannabis legalization deadline: Holland
Government in close contact with U.S. officials on cannabis legalization deadline: Holland

In an interview with The West Block’s Vassy Kapelos, Mark Holland, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of public safety, said Canadian officials have been in “close contact” with their American counterparts about the upcoming legalization of the drug north of the border.

“Remember that the United States has many states that have legalized marijuana, so they’re dealing with this in a domestic context as well,” Holland noted.

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“Ultimately the decision that they make is their decision as a foreign jurisdiction … you always have to be honest and tell the truth at the border.”

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Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer based out of Blaine, Wash., just over the border near White Rock, B.C., said he “couldn’t believe” Holland’s comments.

“I don’t think Mark Holland fully understood when he said his comments that when you admit to smoking marijuana at a U.S. port of entry, you’re not just going to be denied entry, but you’re going to be barred for life,” Saunders said.

“That lack of knowledge is dangerous when advising Canadians to admit to smoking marijuana at U.S. ports of entry.”

LISTEN: Immigration lawyer says Canadians who admit to using drugs could face problems at the border

READ MORE: Have you ever smoked pot? Answer ‘yes’ to a U.S. border guard and you could get banned for life

Saunders didn’t suggest that Canadians who have used marijuana should lie at the border, but he did say they don’t have to be so forthright.

“If you’re asked if you smoked marijuana, that is not a question that you are obliged to answer at a U.S. port of entry,” he said.

“I’m not telling Canadians to lie, but what I’m definitely not doing is telling clients to be so upfront and tell American officers that they’ve smoked marijuana. That’s none of their business.

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“You have every right not to answer that question. If you’ve ever been charged or convicted or they find marijuana in your vehicle or on your person, then yes, you have to answer those questions.”

He also said Canadians can “withdrawal their application for entry” rather than answer questions about marijuana use.

WATCH: Border pot problems predicted to get worse

Border pot problems predicted to get worse
Border pot problems predicted to get worse

Saunders says a large part of his clientele consists of Canadians who have told border officials that they have used marijuana.

His most famous client was snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, the 1998 Olympic gold medallist who has admitted to using marijuana.

“Because of his admission almost 20 years ago, he needs a waiver,” he said.

“He recently applied for it and received one but it costs hundreds of dollars in filing fees… I can’t understand why a Canadian government official would be encouraging Canadians down this path of waivers for life.”

READ MORE: Should you worry about U.S. border agents searching your phone? Yes, says privacy czar

Adult recreational marijuana use is legal in eight U.S. states, including Washington state. But pot is still illegal under federal law, which governs the border.

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Saunders is concerned that proposed plans to legalize marijuana in Canada could lull Canadians crossing the border into a false sense of security.

“It’s still illegal federally [in the U.S.] and that’s what my big concern is,” he said.

“People are going to see it’s legal in Canada, legal in Washington state, but that thin line… the U.S. border which separates the U.S and Canada, it’s still illegal.

“For a Canadian officer to say to admit that you smoked it, you are basically being banned for life from crossing that thin border between the two countries.”

– With files from Monique Scotti and Paul Johnson