OTTAWA – It’s not a new slogan, but the catch phrase of the 1980s and 1990s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign has taken on completely new connotations in light of this week’s American hardline position to refuse entry into the U.S. to anyone admitting to have ever used marijuana in their lives. What’s more, this is a lifetime ban that could cost you lots.
Once turned back one must now apply for advance permission to enter the U.S. as a “non-immigrant” with a travel waiver, which costs $585 USD ($750 CAD), and is granted on a discretionary basis. When the waiver expires, you will need to apply again and pay the fee, again, which is going up to $930 USD ($1,200 CAD) later this year.
It makes travel even more awkward for those in Canada who have been legally prescribed medical marijuana.
Many people are saying that, if asked the question about ever smoking pot, with or without a medical license, to just politely say “no”. But even that is risky. If you have ever been arrested on drug related charges, lying to a border guard will only make matters far worse.
One can refuse to answer that question and be detained for several hours, but according to at least one immigration lawyer, even though there is no constitutional reason to be asked that question in the first place, you better have a lawyer close by. They can and will make you pay in another way by detaining you for as long as they feel they can legally get away with it.
Ottawa lawyer, Eugene Oscapella, who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa, is amazed at the shortsightedness of such a policy.
“They can ask whatever questions they want,” Oscapella is on record saying. “If they think playing checkers is bad, they can go ahead and ban us for playing checkers.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale agrees saying that Canadian traveller’s would be well advised to understand that the U.S. is entitled to enforce whatever laws it deems fit.
Len Saunders, an American immigration lawyer is quite pleased with the new rule. He has been employed by a number of banned Canadians to process their waiver application says he expects Canada’s plan to legalize pot will create a “boom” in his business.
“I think more people are going to purchase (pot) when it’s legal in Canada and then … when they enter the U.S. and admit that they’ve purchased it legal in Canada they are still going to be denied entry until they (get) a waiver,” he told the CBC.
What about Prime Minister Trudeau? Will he be stopped at the border?
Trudeau admitted in 2013 to smoking marijuana in the past, including during his time as an MP. But as Canada’s PM, he uses a diplomatic passport which keeps him immune to the “pot” question.
Unless things change, when he becomes a private citizen again, “Trudeau would not be admissible and would need a waiver for the rest of his life”, says Saunders.
Canadian and American officials are busy trying to sort the whole thing out taking into account the legalization of medical pot in this country, and in some U.S. states, which muddies the water even further.
In the meantime, travellers who use medical marijuana, or ever have used marijuana in their lives, are advised to postpone their U.S. travel. Travellers are also reminded that it is still illegal to cross the border with any amount of pot, medical license or not.
How or even if this new regulation applies to Onkwehonweh cross border travel is yet to be seen, but it is assumed that status will mean nothing at all in this regard at the border.