OTTAWA -- As marijuana legalization draws near and questions linger about what Canadians can expect at the U.S. border, the federal point-man on pot, Bill Blair, has some advice: Don’t lie.
This week, the Senate National Security and Defence Committee issued its report on the federal marijuana legalization legislation, Bill C-45. It offered several recommendations to the federal government relating to addressing Canada-U.S. border issues, including:
- Engaging in formal and political talks with the U.S. government to clarify their position on Canadians crossing the border;
- Negotiating an agreement on the treatment of travellers at the U.S. border related to marijuana that includes the kinds of questions that can be asked; and,
- Preventing additional stops, interrogations, or searches by U.S. custom officers as the result of legalized marijuana.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, parliamentary secretary Bill Blair said talks are ongoing talks between Canadian officials and their American counterparts, but advises that no matter what, Canadians shouldn’t lie about their marijuana use.
While it is legal in some U.S. states, the border authorities operate under federal law, which still bans recreational marijuana.
"When they are questioned by U.S. border security officers, they should tell them the truth, but they should also be able to explain that they have done so legally," Blair said about responding to questions about past marijuana use.
The Senate committee said it heard from witnesses that feared Canadians could face delays and more legal cases regarding inadmissibility for life, as the result of admitting previous marijuana use.
Senators want to see signs and posters at border crossings and pre-clearance sites that spell out the rules, and a Canada-wide awareness campaign that clearly spells out that taking marijuana across the U.S. border will remain illegal after Bill C-45 becomes law.
"We anticipate and expect all Canadians to be treated appropriately as we cross the border," said Blair, who is eyeing late August or early September for when marijuana will be fully legalized across the country.
However, on CTV’s Question Period, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said more needs to be done to ensure that’ll be the case.
"I actually think Canada has to negotiate this out. This is not something every one person should be making their individual decisions. I think CBSA and CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) need to have an understanding as to how best approach it," Heyman said.
He also agreed with the Senate’s recommendation of more public education.
"We really need to figure this out more government to government and have an understanding so that you don’t have one-off operations taking place, both at the U.S. side, 117 border crossings, and at the Canadian side, as opposed to just putting your head in the sand. I think someone needs to give directions to people on how to behave properly when you cross the border," said Heyman.
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