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Canadian cannabis industry workers face problems, bans at U.S. border

Last Updated Jul 13, 2018 at 5:43 pm PDT

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Despite impeding legalization you could face some issues at the US border if you work in the Canadian marijuana industry

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canadians who work for, or have connections to, the cannabis industry are running into problems at the U.S. border, including lifetime travel bans.

Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer based in Blaine, Wash., says he’s received many calls from businesses who tried to travel to the U.S. and were either turned away or banned. He says that’s been accompanied by a spike in applications for waivers.

“It used to be that almost all my waiver connections were criminal convictions. Now I would say probably 25 per cent of my waivers, where it used to be one or two per cent, are waivers where people have run into problems because of marijuana,” he said. “When I first started practicing in Blaine 15 years ago, I’d maybe get one or two cases a year, and when they legalized it in Washington state… my cases went up to one or two a month. When Trudeau started legalizing marijuana… my cases went up to one or two a week. So it’s a huge growth industry for immigration lawyers.”

Despite the fast approaching date of legalization in Canada, and American states such as Washington and Colorado which have allowed the sale of recreational pot, borders remain federal jurisdiction, under which the drug is still illegal.

The U.S. State Department said in an email that admission requirements into the U.S. will not change when Canada legalizes cannabis.

“People who have previous convictions for violation of the anti-narcotics laws of any country, or who admit to having committed such an offense, or who are in possession of cannabis at the time of attempted entry, will not be permitted entry,” the email read.

B.C.’s former health minister, turned medical marijuana company vice president, says he’s very concerned about the future of crossing the border for business.

Terry Lake now works for the medical marijuana company The Hydropothecary and says he’s calling on Ottawa and Washington to come to the table.

“You would think the federal government would be able to talk to the United States government to have some sort of memorandum of understanding on this issue because you’re taking people that are engaging in perfectly legal businesses and treating them like they’re criminals,” he said.

He says his company will likely have to develop its own policy for traveling to the U.S. for business.

However, Saunders warns even people and businesses with tenuous connections to the industry could be targeted.

“If you work for a venture capital company in Canada that has loaned money in the U.S. cannabis company, you could potentially be denied entry to the U.S. based upon living of the avails of drug money,” he said, adding it remains at the discretion of the border guard.

He said he spoke with a commercial landlord in Edmonton who was barred because he leases property to a cannabis company in Colorado.

The laws could also pose problems for lawyers, according to Vancouver-based criminal defence attorney Kyla Lee.

“I defend people who are charged with drug related offences and do interviews about the legalization of cannabis and this is something theoretically they could say I make money off it and so therefore I’m denied entry,” she said. “I am hopeful that this is an issue that the border is going to have to come to accommodate.”

Lee recommends anyone who is concerned about entering the U.S. should consult a U.S. immigration lawyer and get a legal opinion letter to explain why they don’t meet any of the criteria that may bar them from entering.

Going to the border and asking questions, without seeking entry, would also allow an individual to learn whether they could be banned without facing any consequences

While lieing at the border is a federal offence, Saunders says people can remain silent if asked whether they have used cannabis or are involved in the industry.

“Not answering the question will probably result in a denied entry, but you can always go back the next day or a week later,” he said, adding the denied entry will be placed on a person’s record but does not prevent you from coming into the country.

Those who are banned can apply for waivers, which cost $585 USD and last anywhere from one to five years.