Much Ado About the Border

I wish I was a bit more cutthroat. If I were I would probably follow our brave politicians and tell my clients to be perfectly honest at the US border, particularly in relation to marijuana.

If I did that more people would be denied access to the United States and they would need help with processing a United States entry waiver – a rather tedious bit of administrative paperwork that would continually expire and be required for the rest of the person’s life. Unfortunately, I just can’t bring myself to saddle decent people with a lifetime of hassle, just because they smoked a joint once upon a time.

But I can’t exactly tell people to break American law either. It is, after all, their country and they can do whatever they want, particularly in relation to homeland security. If that means asking good people ridiculous questions, and refusing them entry for questionable reasons, that is just the world we live in, and Canadians have no more right telling them not to ask about weed than the Americans have telling us not to put milk in plastic bags anymore. But honesty at the border goes deeper than just admitting to whether or not you’ve ever smoked a joint.

So here is what I tell my clients:

United States Border guards have access to our criminal record database. If you’ve been charged with a crime and/or convicted of a crime, and you haven’t taken steps to make sure the record(s) are cleared in Canada, then all of that information is available at the border. And if they find it they will keep it and you will be banned for life. Once that happens, clearing the record in Canada will not make any difference.

But what if you clear your record before arriving at the border? In that case the border guards don’t have access to the information any longer. Now, what if you are not perfectly honest and don’t tell them about that pardoned criminal record? In that case they won’t find out.

Obviously the same rule applies to marijuana that applies to a pardoned criminal record. If you don’t tell them, they won’t find out. It really is that simple.

American law may say you have to answer all questions honestly but the truth is absolute honesty is not only over-rated, it’s an impossibility, totally incompatible with the human experience. We all tell lies – all day, every day. But they are usually so minor as to be irrelevant. After all, it doesn’t really matter if I’m not doing great. If someone asks, I will probably say that I am.

And for those of us who grew up with marijuana, admitting we’ve used it to an authority figure is about as relevant to national security as the moods I’m in at any given moment.

So ignore what the politicians say or don’t. Admit to using marijuana or don’t because it’s ultimately your choice, just like it was your choice to get high without running off to a police station to hand over the evidence. But it’s better if you can make an informed decision, rather than listen to an elected official who’s only trying to navigate the absurdities of international drug hysteria.

This isn’t advice though, it’s just information. I have no qualifications to provide legal direction to anyone. But I’m confident I have a lot more experience on this one than Ralph Goodale or Bill Blair or anyone else unfortunate enough to be dealing with this side of the legalization portfolio. Plus, there’s good old common sense.

And for the record I, um, never-ever touched the stuff. So I guess I’ll take my chances at the border.





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