There may be little the government can do to prevent American border guards from asking Canadians about past marijuana use, but there might be something travellers can do — try to stay under the radar.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was asked by members of the House of Commons public safety committee on Thursday whether the government has succeeded in securing any deal with the Americans not to bar Canadians who admit to smoking pot once it is legal.
In response, he said it is the right of American guards to ask but that Canadians might want to avoid making them feel the need to do so.
“You should always answer questions at the border truthfully and the best advice that one can give is that Canadians should be aware when they come to the border they are entering a country that has a different federal law,” Goodale said.
“So you should not engage in behaviour that would provoke or prompt an American border officer to be suspicious of your behaviour.”
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Legalization of marijuana is expected to take place later this summer.
Admitting to having smoked marijuana can result in Canadians being barred for life from the U.S.
The concern among immigration experts and critics is that once more people can legally consume marijuana, doing so may force them either to disclose that to an American border guard, to lie or to refuse to answer.
Refusing to answer could result in the individual being barred from entering that one time, but likely would not lead to a permanent bar, as can be the case with admitting to smoking marijuana previously.
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Canadian officials including Goodale have repeatedly said lying about pot use would be the wrong response.
But Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Washington State, said telling Canadians to fess up isn’t much better.
“That is bad advice by Canadian government officials, and they should know better,” Saunders says.
“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.”
Another Washington State immigration lawyer, Scott Railton, also stressed the concern extends even to Canadians who admit to smoking marijuana once it becomes legal, although that has remained a topic of debate before recent parliamentary committees.
“Even though it wouldn’t be against the law under a foreign jurisdiction, the substance is still listed as a controlled substance under U.S. law,” he said. “That would be the concern.”
The Senate is currently reviewing the legislation to legalize marijuana.
It has agreed to move that through the Red Chamber by June 7 in order for it to be either passed through the House of Commons in an amended version or sent on for royal assent if it is not amended.
That must be completed prior to the House of Commons rising on June 22 for summer recess.
Once it receives royal assent, the provinces will get roughly eight weeks to prepare before legal marijuana arrives in their jurisdictions.
That will likely mean Canadians will not be able to light up legally until some time in September.