Politicians, pot and problems at the border

Could Canada’s spate of high-profile marijuana admissions spark trouble for those trying to enter the U.S.?


Andrew Hetherington/Redux y

The recent outbreak of political frankness when it comes to past marijuana use, while refreshing, is not without consequences. Political leaders who made such admissions, including three provincial premiers, the leaders of two national parties and the mayors of Toronto and London, Ont., may find, as thousands of Canadians have, that honesty may not be the best policy when trying to gain entry to the U.S. If you’ve ever been arrested for cannabis possession, or even admitted to puffing pot, Uncle Sam does not want you.

There are more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, including admitting to smoking marijuana, a crime of “moral turpitude,” says Thomas Schreiber, Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer at Blaine, Wash., in an email exchange with Maclean’s. He cites the relevant section: “any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of . . .any law or regulation of a State, the United States or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance . . . is inadmissible.”

That cuts quite a swath. Some 40 per cent of Canadians 15 or older admit to smoking marijuana in their lifetime, says a 2011 Health Canada survey. If a U.S. border agent asks any of those more than 10 million Canadians if they’ve ever used pot, and they answer honestly, they will be barred. Agents have no room for discretion, says Schreiber. “The law is very clear on matters of admissibility.”

More vulnerable are those who’ve been convicted, or even just arrested for possession, a record likely to pop up on a border service computer. That includes more than 462,000 Canadians arrested for pot possession since the Conservative government escalated the war on drugs in 2006. And even an agent’s cursory Google search will churn up the names of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, premiers Kathleen Wynne (Ontario) Brad Wall (Saskatchewan), and Darrell Dexter (Nova Scotia), and mayors Rob Ford (Toronto) and Joe Fontana (London). “I was a drummer in a rock band in the late ‘60s. What do you think I was doing?” Fontana said recently. “I didn’t exhale.”

“If it’s in a database somewhere the United States probably knows about it,” says Victoria lawyer Kirk Tousaw, whose clients include registered medical marijuana users, who are also barred from the U.S., although they can legally smoke in Canada. He advises his clients never to voluntarily admit to smoking pot, “but not to lie, of course, because that is a felony offence. Lying to a border guard, you can go to jail for five years.”

Schreiber says there is a range of penalities for making a false declaration. “Consequences may range from simple refusal of admission, to a multi-year ban on admission, a lifetime ban on admission or possible prosecution.” About 196,000 aliens were deemed inadmissible last year, but the number of those who were turned back for drug offences isn’t readily available. Those refused admission can apply through a U.S. embassy or consulate for a visa waiver which may be granted under some circumstances from the U.S. Department of State, says Schreiber. “Remember,” he said, “a criminal history is for life, even if the alien obtains a pardon in their home country.”

Tousaw applauds Canadian politicians for their honesty, saying people like Trudeau have helped open “an adult conversation” on legalization. “It’s a sticky situation,” Tousaw says. “I’m not saying that the U.S. is going to tell Justin Trudeau if he becomes prime minister of Canada he’s inadmissible. But if they don’t, there’s certainly a double standard at play.”


Politicians, pot and problems at the border

  1. I am one of the thousands of Canadians who have to apply for a waiver (just got my 4th one at a cost of close to $600 US when all is said and done) in order to enter the USA because of a drug chage when I was 19 (I am now 53), for doing something the past three American Presidents have all admittted doing. WTF?

    • Once a criminal, always a criminal

      • Once a ignorant idiot, always an ignorant idiot.

      • “Law biding” … lol

      • as a matter of fact I continue to break the law everyday; I have however noticed that your boy “stevo” has gone a bit ‘mom’ in his desire to build a pasal of new prisons to put all of us pot smokers into, you know our guy stevo, the guy that wanted us to invade Iraq, that idiot

        • There you go. I don’t see why your complaining. I’m sure you also complain because they search your vehicle every time you go through the boarder too?

          • You “go through the boarder” and they’ll likely have you up on vehicular manslaughter, if not murder.
            Try “border”…

      • Ever go over the speed limit? Ever download anything you didn’t buy – or, depending on your age, ever make a mix tape / CD?

    • So? Pay up. You knew it was criminal so no sympathy from me even though I support legalizing it.

  2. The USA is so confusing …. they averaged 201 injuries and 84 deaths by guns not per month or per week but per DAY in 2010 http://smartgunlaws.org/gun-deaths-and-injuries-statistics/ however smoke a joint and we won’t allow you in the country ,, with a country having a gun related death every … 17 MINUTES … i think i will pass on the opportunity

    • Now imaging a pot smoker with a gun. Or a car, or a knife, or a chain saw….

      But I still support making it legal as any impaired person can be a wing nut case to do bad stuff. But you are responsible for your own behavior…. And impairment can come from 100s of activities.

  3. “any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of . . .any law or regulation of a State, the United States or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance . . . is inadmissible.”

    So, if I enter in the USA in Washington and tell the truth, it’s ok, since it’s legal there? I’m so confused.

  4. Load of rubbish….Trudeau Sr smoked pot, and even went to China and Cuba [the enemy of the time]….and went to DC as PM.

    Rightwing noise machine again.

      • Trying to stem pot tourists and trying to convince Canada not to legalize.

        Justin won’t have a problem.

        • That’s OK Emily you obviously have enough problems for just about everyone.

    • Trudeau went to DC

      Oh my Emily, either you’re being sneaky or your memory’s gone from years of smoking your poor little pea brain into sawdust.

      Oh yeah Emily Trudeau went to DC after he became PM but he wasn’t doing much travel down there before that; he’d been barred from entry by the US immigration service.

      You must remember it Emily, goofy old Trudeau in his Voyageur canoe trying to paddle his way from Florida to Cuba for Fidel Castro’s birthday party. He got caught in a storm and had to be rescued, seasick and crying, by the US Coast Guard, who promptly deported him and seized his vessel.

      And then there was Jack, and I’ll tell you when the cops broke down the door of his cubicle with a fire axe while he was peacefully gazing at the ceiling, he needed more than a bit of gravol to settle him down afterwards.

  5. Is ex President Clinton refused entry to USA?
    He admitted smoking pot, though “didn’t inhale”.
    The question …Did Justin inhale?

    • “any alien convicted of” – he isn’t an alien – he’s a citizen

  6. Time for Canada to legalize it, forget decriminalizing it, just legalize it. Washington state just approved some facilities to openly sell weed not just for medical use, but recreational use. Colorado already does.


    Time to get with the plan and stop funding organized crime and LE/justice bloat. As organized crime survives as the illegal price is so high, but being legal the price drop eliminates organized crime profits.

    And I don’t even use it, but see the benefits of legalization.

  7. Maybe BC can restart its failing tourist business and become a weed tourist venue? Sure, if weed were legal, you wouldn’t be able to 80% tax it like booze, but you would have more tourist income.

  8. so what the hell is stopping our FLIPPING GOVERNMENT from doing the same to USA CITIZENS when they try and come into CANADA.Stop them from ENTERING CANADA for using or being arrested for marijuana. Time the USA GOT THEIR HEADS OUT OF THEIR ASSES