Have you ever smoked pot? Answer ‘yes’ to a U.S. border guard and you could get banned for life

By Jon Azpiri Online News Producer Global News

“Have you ever smoked pot?”

It’s a loaded question, particularly if it comes from a U.S. border guard.

Jessica Goldstein knows that all too well. She was travelling to Washington state for a Dave Matthews Band concert when a border agent asked her if she had ever used marijuana. She said she had and was banned from entering the U.S. for life. Now, if she wants to travel south of the border she has to get a costly waiver.

Goldstein’s lawyer, Len Saunders, says he’s had at least two dozen cases like hers.

“Usually it’s someone younger, maybe in their early 20s,” he said. “They’re going to a music festival in the U.S. — maybe they have a marijuana sticker on the back of their car or they have a wallet that has a marijuana leaf on it. It’s always something that triggers that question. It’s usually something very minor which then kind of snowballs into more of a problem.”

Behind all of this is the United States’ complex marijuana policy. Pot is legal in four states, including Washington state, with five other states set to vote on legalization this fall. But federal law, which governs the border, says pot is still illegal.

Canada is expected to push the U.S. to change its border policy given Canada’s plans to legalize pot, a government spokesman said last week.

Washington state congresswoman Suzan DelBene told Global News she’s concerned about the situation.

“We should always strive to find the balance of protecting our communities from real security risks and treating our neighbours to the north with the respect they deserve,” she said.

DelBene is on a powerful committee that oversees the border but until the letter of the law is changed in Washington, D.C., it’s a major problem for many Canadians.

Goldstein said her decision to be honest at the border has brought her untold grief and cost her more than $1,000.

“I feel like I’m being treated as a criminal,” she said.

So what should Canadians say to a U.S. border agent if they are asked if they have ever smoked pot?

“To begin with, as an attorney I don’t encourage people to lie,” Saunders said. “But then I tell people you’re under no obligation to answer that question. It’s not a question that’s relevant for an entry. Yes, if you’ve been charged with marijuana possession or convicted or if they find marijuana on you, I think that’s a fair question for them to ask. But just a random question on whether you’ve used marijuana in the past, I don’t think it’s their business.

“So I tell individuals, you can just say, ‘I don’t answer that question, none of your business’ or just withdraw your application for entry and return to Canada. Because it can’t get any worse than being barred for life if you answer ‘yes.'”

— With files from Paul Johnson and Reuters

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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