This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
If our own prime minister can publicly admit he's smoked weed, Canadians shouldn't be getting banned from entering America for doing the same.
That's the "common sense" message Canada's public safety minister has been delivering to media on both sides of the border this week, after VICE brought the strange practice to light last month.
Even when crossing into weed-friendly Washington, VICE found some travellers are being pressured into telling border guards about their smoking habits. In the case of music journalist Alan Ranta, he was cuffed, taken to an interrogation room, told he was under oath, and warned his car could be swabbed for traces of marijuana. Even though he didn't have any weed on him, Ranta's admission was deemed a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Now he's barred from entering the country.
"It's pretty devastating," Ranta told VICE weeks after his detainment. Until the border run-in, Ranta says he'd never been arrested or charged with anything in his life. "My family's had a cottage in Point Roberts, Washington for about 50 years, which is a place I feel connected to my dad who passed away 10 years ago. I try to go several times a summer if I can."
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called it a "ludicrous situation" on CBC's Power & Politics, and told international media he would push the US to stop it from happening. "We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security," he told CBC.
The Canadian government has plans to legalize and regulate weed as early as the coming spring, but that won't change anything for Ranta, who will be flagged a criminal at any US border entry. If he ever wants to visit the US again, he has to apply for a travel waiver—an expensive and discretionary exemption.
When I first called up immigration lawyer Len Saunders, he told VICE he's seen dozens of similar cases over the last few years. He stressed you don't need to admit anything at the border—and can always turn around and go back to Canada.
"Clients call me, they say they had to tell the truth, I couldn't lie," he told VICE. "What I'll say is, change the question: What if they asked about your sex life? Would you be so forthcoming?"
So far, American politicians and border protection have yet to offer any public comment on the controversy.
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