Why telling a U.S. border guard you’ve smoked pot could be dangerous, even once it’s legalized

Click to play video: 'Border travel may be tricky once marijuana legal'
Border travel may be tricky once marijuana legal
WATCH: Many British Columbians who travel south of the border may find themselves in legal limbo when Canada legalizes marijuana this summer. Ted Chernecki explains – Mar 19, 2018

If you’ve ever smoked pot, be warned: trouble could still lie ahead at the Canada-U.S. border.

An American immigration lawyer traveled to Ottawa Monday to shed light on an issue that could get even worse when pot is legalized in Canada, saying more Canadians could be permanently denied entry to the U.S. if they admit to smoking pot — even after the law is passed.

“I see a wall on the northern border,” Len Saunders told the Senate Hearing Committee.

If someone answers yes to a border agent’s question of whether they’ve smoked pot, ever, Saunders said “they’re basically turned around, told to go back to Canada, and told they are inadmissible for life. This is a lifetime ban.”

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Saunders’ practice is based in Blaine, Wash., which sits just across the border from B.C.

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Washington state legalized recreational marijuana five years ago, which Saunders said could only increase the assumption that smoking pot is no big deal when driving through the Peace Arch or other crossings on the west coast.

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But pot is still considered illegal on the federal level, which means border agents will still treat smoking the drug as an offence.

Saunders brought up the example of B.C.-bred Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who won the gold medal in Nagano in 1998 but was later stripped of the prize when he tested positive for marijuana.

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Rebagliati later got his medal back after the decision was overturned, but the next day he admitted to smoking the drug on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The athlete is now permanently barred from entering the U.S. without a special waiver, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

“He will be in the system requiring a waiver for the rest of his life,” Saunders told the committee. “That is just the tip of the iceberg on these cases.”

The lawyer also suggested that even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has previously admitted to smoking pot, could have trouble at the border himself.

Saunders said he’s advising people to avoid giving an answer altogether if they’re questioned at the border, saying they’re not required to say anything at all if they choose.

“Not every officer asks this question,” he said in Ottawa. “Its discretionary. But if you’re asked this question, I’ve always told clients you’re under no obligation to say yes.

“Its not a question that is required to be answered at a port of entry,” he added. “You’re not lying if you say nothing.”


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