Canada will urge the United States to reconsider a border policy that has resulted in travel bans for Canadians who admit to having used marijuana, a senior government official said this week.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale backed the change in an interview with CBC on Thursday in the wake of recent reports that have highlighted the cases of Canadians who have been barred from the U.S. for answers given at border crossings about their past marijuana use.
“We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security,” Mr. Goodale told CBC’s Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton.
“This does seem to be a ludicrous situation,” he added, especially in light of recreational marijuana now being legal in four U.S. states, including the province of British Columbia’s southern neighbor, Washington State.
Len Saunders, a Canadian immigration attorney, previously explained that admitting marijuana use to a U.S. border agent when asked is enough for someone with an otherwise clean record to be barred U.S. indefinitely.
“You might as well have a conviction, because you’ve admitted the essential elements of a crime involving moral turpitude, which is the use of illegal drugs,”’ he told KNKX public radio in 2013.
Under U.S. immigration law, individuals are ineligible to be admitted if they ‘voluntarily admit to having committed a crime involving moral turpitude,’” Chief Thomas Schreiber, Customs and Border Patrol officer, told the radio station at the time. Persons deemed persona non grata can appeal by applying for a travel waiver, but those are granted on a discretionary basis and at a considerable cost.
A spokesman for Canada’s health minister said Friday that this issue “will be discussed in future bilateral discussions” after recently generating widespread attention, Reuters reported.
British Columbia resident Matthew Harvey is among a group of Canadians who have been vocally critical as of late with respect to the policy. Mr. Harvey, 39, was stopped by U.S. officials in 2014 and indefinitely barred after admitting he ever recreationally smoked weed — a plant that’s still recognized under federal law as a Schedule 1 drug.
“They said that I was inadmissible because I admitted to smoking marijuana after the age of 18 and before I’d received my medical marijuana license,” he recently said of the attempted border crossing.
Fadi Minawi, a Toronto-based lawyer, told CBC that his office has heard from at least 50 people during the last two years who were barred from the U.S. for similarly telling a border agent they smoked pot.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his administration will back an effort next year to legalize marijuana in Canada, and nine states in the U.S. will consider establishing either recreational or medicinal pot programs during November’s general election. Meanwhile, however, Canada’s safety minister recently told citizen they should be “well advised to understand” that the U.S. may enforce its federal laws as it deems fit, CBC reported.
“The present marijuana regime that has existed now for many years in both Canada and the United States has clearly failed Canadian and American young people because North American teenagers are among the biggest users of marijuana in the western world,” Mr. Goodale told CBC earlier this month.
“We will certainly work very hard to make sure that they understand that we’re moving a regime with respect to marijuana that will be far more effective than theirs,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported Friday.