The next border issue: Legal marijuana discrimination

The problems surrounding the federal criminalization of marijuana are deeply rooted in nearly every aspect of American policy and because of the Trump administration, tensions at our northern border are heating up for a new reason: legal Canadian marijuana.

Following Canada’s decision to become the first country in North America to legalize the use and retail sale of cannabis, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency published a memorandum affirming that those Canadians either involved or invested in the legal cannabis industry may be barred admission into the United States.

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The agency modified their policy directive on Oct. 9, 2018, acknowledging, “A Canadian citizen working in … the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the United States. However, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reasons related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

In response to this hard-line position, Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (D-Ore.), the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has introduced the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act (HR 7275), or The Maple Act for short.

This legislation provides protections for individuals whose actions are “lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that are “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” in regard to the emerging legal status of marijuana in the United States and internationally.

At the time of the announcement of the legislation in October, Blumenauer said, “Our federal cannabis laws are out of touch. Currently, 46 states have legalized some form of cannabis and I am confident that legalization will get a boost from successful ballot initiatives next month. As of today, our ally to the north is outpacing us. In the short term, Congress must address the policy gap created by conflicting cannabis laws. But this chaos must end and the only way to do that is to end marijuana prohibition once and for all.”

There have already been examples of the United State’s punitive border policy needlessly wrecking lives since the enactment of legal marijuana in Canada. In one such example, an individual received a lifetime ban from entering the United States on Nov. 14 simply because he was an investor in a legal Canadian-licensed marijuana business.

This international policy tension is only going to escalate with the soon-to-be legalization efforts that are underway in Mexico, as the Mexican Supreme Court struck down the countries policy of prohibition as unconstitutional on Oct. 31 of this year. In their ruling, the Justices opined, “The effects caused by marijuana do not create an absolute prohibition on its consumption.”

It is crucial that the United States recognizes the rights of both our citizens and our international allies to be able to travel freely between our three nations and to reform federal border policies to acknowledge this new reality.

Justin Strekal is the Political Director for NORML, where he serves as an advocate to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and to reform our nation's laws to no longer treat marijuana consumers as second-class citizens.