“People should always tell the truth when they are questioned by U.S. border security officers. They should tell them the truth,” Blair said in an interview published Saturday.
But doing that in the real world “is going to create many, many, many border crossing issues for many, many, many people,” warns Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, Wash.
Canadians can be barred for life from entering the United States if they admit to ever having consumed marijuana — even in the U.S., in states where it’s legal.
Canadians banned from the U.S. can apply for a waiver allowing them to cross the border, but the process is cumbersome and expensive, and the application has to be restarted from scratch every few years for the rest of the person’s life.
Even after recreational marijuana becomes legal in Canada this summer, U.S. law will allow border officers to ban Canadians for life for legally using it in Canada.
Instead, Canadians can refuse to answer questions about past marijuana use. That will probably lead to them being turned back on that one occasion, but won’t lead to more serious consequences, Saunders says.
“Chances are (on a different day) you’ll get a different officer who doesn’t care,” he says.
“Not all the officers care, but the ones who do can sure make life miserable for you forever.”
“I have never seen a case where someone has refused to answer a question regarding past marijuana use and they’ve been barred for life. I have never seen that happen.”
Lying at the border is a bad idea which can also lead to a lifetime ban, but Saunders takes issue with a statement later in the interview in which Blair says that “lying to the border agent is a far more significant offence than having previously used this drug.”
“When he says that lying is far worse than admitting to smoking marijuana, that’s absolutely incorrect. They both have the same consequences,” Saunders says. “They’re equally bad — lifetime bars. He doesn’t understand that.”
Last fall, similar comments by Liberal MP Mark Holland attracted criticism.
“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,” Holland said in an interview with Global News.
“That is bad advice by Canadian government officials, and they should know better,” Saunders says. “If they don’t know better, then they should educate themselves before making comments to the Canadian public.”
“Honestly, I don’t think that to this day the Canadian government fully understands the ramifications. I really, really don’t think they understand it.”
There is no basis to believe that attitudes toward pot at the border will relax in any way after legalization here, Saunders says.
“I see no change, and I’ve been living at ground zero at the U.S. border watching Canadians, one after the other, being picked off and denied entry for admitting smoking marijuana.”
A federal justice department spokesperson referred questions to Global Affairs.
Update, 9 a.m. ET:
“Currently, U.S. border officers have the discretion to deny entry into the U.S. if the traveller admits to using cannabis,” Global Affairs spokesperson John Babcock wrote in an e-mail. “This will not change if cannabis is legalized in Canada. A state has the sovereign right to determine the conditions of entry into its country.”
CORRECTION: Misattributed quotes in an earlier version of this story have been corrected.