Legalizing pot won’t help at U.S. border: immigration lawyer

Blanket pardons might not be coming for past marijuana conviction

The federal government has not committed to any pardons for marijuana-related offences.

The Trudeau government has pledged to legalize marijuana in the spring, but anyone who’s been convicted of a pot-related crime won’t be off the hook right away.

A federal task force on legalization recommended this week to allow storefront and mail-order sales of marijuana to people 18 years old and up, and to not sell it alongside cigarettes or alcohol.

But just the federal Liberals, it said little about how the government should go about pardoning those who’ve been convicted of possession, trafficking, or production or marijuana, and more, once marijuana is made legal.

“The impact of being arrested and convicted for simple cannabis possession offences has serious ramifications,” it reads. “The stigma of arrest, and the possibility of having a criminal record, are life-long consequences.”

Possession of marijuana is a federal offence under the Controlled Substances Act. A first conviction can lead to fines of up to $1,000, six months in jail or both. It can also lead to a criminal record.

Currently, people convicted of possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana can apply for a pardon, or record suspension, five years after they complete their sentence.

Federal Public Safety Ministry press secretary Scott Bardley said Friday there is no change to that expected at this time.

Workarounds

Even if a pardon is granted, it still might not help those wanting to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

Alexander, a middle-aged man from the Lower Mainland who declined to provide his last name, was arrested for marijuana possession for getting caught with 1.5 grams of marijuana in his apartment in 1980.

“I had enough on me to make make maybe three joints,” he said.

He received a conditional discharge – meaning that after he served out his probation and completed his community service, he’d no longer have a criminal record.

Alexander thought the matter was finished and didn’t have any problem crossing the border until a customs agent questioned him at the Osoyoos crossing a few years later.

“I was honest – I said I got caught with a gram and a half of pot in Canada.”

He was banned from entering the U.S. for more than a decade until a landmark court case in 2001 permitted entry into certain states.

But then, just weeks before Alexander and his now-wife were set to get married in New York City five years ago, he was again denied entry while trying to head south.

“That’s when we went to Len and he got me the waiver,” Alexander said.

Leonard Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, said a pardon from the Canadian government doesn’t mean anything to U.S. border security.

“Any individual who’s not American who has a criminal conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude or controlled substances can be denied entry,” said Saunders. “A pardon will change nothing.”

Even mentioning past marijuana usage at the border can get you a permanent denial to the U.S. – unless you get a waiver, Saunders said.

Alexander has one that will last him through to 2021.

Issues south of the border

Legalization advocate Dana Larsen has a similar story from about 20 years ago.

“They asked me at the border if I’d ever used marijuana and I foolishly said that I had in the past. That got me banned for the rest of my life,” said Larsen. “I haven’t tried to appeal it because I’m still involved in the marijuana culture and I figured if I brought them more information about myself it would only reaffirm their decision.”

Larsen said he knows many others who’ve faced the same fate and is also concerned that even if Canada legalizes marijuana is legalized, it won’t affect anyone travelling to the U.S.

“If you’re a Canadian, even with legal marijuana in Canada, if they ask you if you’ve used marijuana and you say yes, they can ban you,” he said. “If you have a previous conviction for a cannabis offence of any kind, that will also get you banned from the U.S. forever.”

He doesn’t see a way to solve that north of the border.

“Other than putting political pressure on the American government, there’s not a lot Canada can do to change American policy,” he said, noting that there’s a certain irony to being denied entry to the United States at a border between two jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. That’s because marijuana is still illegal under federal law in the U.S.

“That’s probably going to be one of the last things to change. I do not see the Trump administration making cross-border access for marijuana smokers a high priority.”

Canada Marijuana Legalization Taskforce

 

 

@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(BC Hydro outage map)
UPDATE: Power restored to more than 3,000 Sooke residents

Two polling stations impacted by outage

The mottled sky, the lights coming on at water’s edge and in Victoria West, and the reflections on the building windows make for a scenic sunset photo in Victoria’s Selkirk neighbourhood. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Sunset on the Selkirk in Victoria

Send your photos to editor@vicnews.com for a chance to see them in the paper

Christopher Mauro, right, assistant manager of the Sidney Save-On-Foods, and Nick Luney, youth initiatives director for the Victoria Pride Society, celebrate the success of a pandemic fundraiser for the local Pride Society. (Courtesy Save-On Foods)
Grocery managers across the Island pull together for Queer youth

With Victoria Pride Parade and Festival cancelled, Save-On-Foods staff found a way to raise funds

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read