U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials met with a group of Canadian Conservative Senators this week to discuss Canada’s plans to legalize recreational cannabis. And according to one Senator, U.S. officials raised concerns with how legalization could impact activities at the border.
The three Senators said in a press release they set up the meetings in Washington, D.C. because they were dissatisfied with the “empty answers and broken record” responses they received from the Liberal government during Senate committee hearings on the proposed cannabis law. The Senators have repeatedly spoken out against the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada.
Senator Claude Carignan told VICE News in a phone interview on Thursday that he and the Canadian delegation met with Jeff Sessions and other officials for 45 minutes. Carignan said Sessions and Homeland Security officials warned there could be increased wait times for Canadians at the border due to more secondary screenings.
“They know that they will have more secondary inspection because if the dogs that they use at the border are very good … if people smoke cannabis and they keep the same clothes … they will smell the cannabis and so automatically they will put the people at the secondary inspection,” Carignan explained. “It will delay the travellers from not only for those who have inspections, but for the regular travellers. If they spend more time on secondary, they will have less border agents to take care of the regular travellers.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment to VICE News, and would only confirm that a meeting took place. Earlier this year, Sessions encouraged U.S. federal prosecutors to go after cannabis businesses in the U.S., even if they are legalized under state laws. Under the Obama administration, federal prosecutors were instructed to only pursue such cases involving illegal cannabis trafficking across state lines, sales to children, and other series violations.
Carignan said Trump administration officials also raised concerns about a possible increase in illegal cannabis trafficking across the US-Canada border, and possible illegal cannabis activities occurring on Indigenous reserves that straddle the border — although Carignan said they didn’t specify a particular reserve.
“What they have seen in Colorado is that they have seen new [cartels] that have used the legal activities to cover their trafficking,” Carignan said of the state which allows recreational cannabis sales “They produce more than what they need and they traffick [the cannabis].”
He and the other Senators plan to relay the details of their Washington meetings to their colleagues, and make recommendations for the Canadian legal framework.
'THIS SHOULD NOT BE AN ISSUE'
Senators heard testimony from immigration and drug policy experts last month during committee hearings on Canada’s proposed cannabis legislation that also warned about Canadians getting turned away by U.S. border guards — and even barred from entry for life — if they admit to ever consuming cannabis.
But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said Canadians shouldn’t worry about legal cannabis creating difficulty for people crossing into the U.S., and that there’s no need for American border guards to tighten their screening of Canadians.
“Our message [to Americans] is this should not be an issue,” Goodale told another Senate committee last month. “It becomes an issue if you make it one, but there’s no need to make it one because the border rules have not changed.”
A final vote on the Liberal’s cannabis legislation will take place on June 7th.