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  • Writer's pictureTed Ohashi

Ted Ohashi: Marijuana Matters

Why is the U.S. rescheduling cannabis important to you? If you have anything to do with the cannabis industry, you could be at risk for a lifetime ban by U.S. border authorities. This could be the outcome even though you have not and do not use cannabis and neither you nor anyone else you work with touch the plant. You might even be a government employee and face the same risk.

This point was made in a story in the Star Metro Vancouver written by Perrin Grauer who said, “"In addition to those who have used marijuana, Canadians who are involved with the cannabis economy have been labelled ‘inadmissible’ because they are considered to be living off the profits of the drug trade. Once banned for life, you must seek legal waivers from an immigration lawyer [sic] - good for between one and five years - for the rest of their lives when they wish to cross the border."

The article was based on a recent trip to the United States by Jay Evans, CEO of Keirton Inc. and two colleagues who were going to a meeting with Americans interested in collaborating on a machine that would be used in cannabis production. Evans said, “We had not yet designed the product, we had not yet marketed the product, and we’d not yet sold the product….Keirton is not involved with the production, distribution or sale of cannabis. But because its equipment is explicitly intended to be used by people who are, Evans and his colleagues were told after a six-hour interview they were 'drug traffickers' according to U.S. federal law."

All three were issued lifetime bans that forbids them from entering the United States of America.

It is important to keep in mind the American border officers are simply doing their job. And it all relates back to the same old issue: under U.S. federal law, cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug and border security is a federal responsibility. It doesn’t matter that you are leaving a country like Canada where cannabis is legal or if you are travelling to a state such as California where adult-use cannabis is legal. Schedule 1 makes cannabis the same as cocaine or heroin under the strict interpretation of U.S. law. Working and earning income from the cannabis industry is virtually the same as trafficking cocaine or heroin in the eyes of the law. This has little to do with using cannabis although that still remains a hot button issue at the border. But working in and around the cannabis industry means you are considered to be living off the profits of the drug trade. After all, many traffickers don’t use the drugs they are selling.

Even more absurd, after October 17, 2018, you could be a government employee in Canada and if you work in a provincially owned and operated cannabis dispensary, you can be banned for life from the U.S. by their border security. We have known for some time that the wrong answer to the question, “Have you ever used marijuana?” can result in being turned back or banned from entering the U.S. In the future the incorrect answer to the question “Where do you work?” or “What do you do for a living?” could have the same effect.

If you use your imagination, it actually means if you receive some financial compensation for advertising or promoting cannabis, you could be in trouble. Investors could also be caught if the net is cast even wider. Let’s go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Canopy Growth is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Canada Pension Plan could easily invest in CGC which is one of the largest cannabis companies in the world listed on the world’s premier financial exchange. It might be a stretch but that could mean every Canadian who participates in the country’s national retirement fund could be considered an investor in cannabis and could have a problem.

Once you are inadmissible, you have to seek a legal waiver that can take several months and the cost of a lawyer. We are talking a few thousand dollars in costs. Waivers are issued for one to five years so you will need a new one when your current waiver expires. Finally, there is no guarantee your application will even be approved.

What’s the solution? Lying to border security is not the answer. That can result in the same inadmissibility. The only real answer is for U.S. lawmakers to reschedule or de-schedule cannabis at the federal level. The U.S. federal law must change. But here is the next problem. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration might decide not to change the status of cannabis. Conceivably it could reschedule CBD and not THC. That would be a little like Solomon’s Judgement of cutting the baby in half but you never know. As legalization progresses in Canada, the U.S. rescheduling of cannabis will become more and more important to an increasing number of Canadians including government employees.

Both Canadians and Americans often boast about our strong relationship and the border between us (3,987 miles excluding the Alaska/Canada border) being the longest international border in the world between two countries. We believe Canadians and most Americans don’t want our bond to change. For that to be the case, something has to change and soon.

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