Don’t Fear the Reefer

Ganja gadgets for beginners. Alan and Michael visit Canada’s biggest cannabis culture shop, The Friendly Stranger on Queen Street West in Toronto. Owner, Robin Ellins reveals his plans for as many as 50 new stores; the surprising demographic entering his shop post-legalization; and the best gadgets for someone who doesn’t want to roll a joint. Plus: Alan’s Top Ten Marijuana Anthems.

The Playlist


An attorney shines light through the pot haze

By: Amber Healy

The haze at the border isn’t just coming from legal pot smoke.

Canada’s new laws legalizing recreational marijuana use has created quite the buzz from coast to coast, but in border cities, there’s some confusion as to what’s permissible, what’s not, and what Americans going into Canada can and cannot do.

Let’s try and break it down with a little help from an expert.

Jamie Fiegel is a partner with the Fiegel & Carr Law Firm based in Buffalo. She’s certified in immigration law for both the U.S. and Canada and she’s been just about everywhere the past month, trying to shed some light on the pot laws.

Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em — but don’t try to bring ’em across

First and foremost, she wants people to be smart and safe: Don’t bring anything, “not even a single tiny leaf” across the border. Just don’t do it, don’t try it, don’t even think about it.

Jamie Fiegel

Also, don’t smoke in the car.

“It’s common sense. But don’t smoke weed in Toronto in the bus and think you’ll open the window and they won’t smell it,” she said. Custom and Border Patrol officers will smell it in your vehicle and that’ll give them more than sufficient reason to pull you over and tear apart the vehicle, which they have every right to do.

On the day recreational pot became legal, there were multiple reports suggesting that border guards were encouraging people to ‘fess up if they had pot in their car. Declare it: the pot will be confiscated but it might decrease or eliminate the fine for trying to bring pot into the United States.

On the other hand, however, admitting to having pot on your person might not eliminate the risk of being arrested.

“The best practice for anyone coming over (into the United States from Canada): have zero on them, including paraphernalia. Don’t smoke it in the car,” she said.

That’s pretty straightforward and sound advice.

What if you make your green from the green industry?

Another issue that could cause problems, however, is for people coming from Canada, where pot is legal, into the U.S., heading to a state where marijuana is legal, like Colorado, Washington, etc.

If the person is affiliated with a marijuana company in some way, or a company that works in the marijuana industry, with the intended purpose of conducting business in the marijuana industry in the U.S., even if it’s legal in that state, the person could be deemed inadmissible. Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level in the United States and that’s enough to keep a person banned from the States, she said.

If, however, that person is coming into the U.S. for non-marijuana-related purposes, for vacation or visiting friends or going on tour, it should be smooth sailing, Fiegel said.

But what about someone like the surviving members of the Tragically Hip? They’re business partners with a marijuana company, and there’s that photo of the guys standing in the middle of a grow room, but it’s unlikely they’d be traveling on behalf of the company into the U.S. If Rob Baker writes that long-rumoured book, will he be able to come into, say, Buffalo on a book tour?

That shouldn’t be a problem, Fiegel said. So long as the trip is NOT for marijuana-related purposes, even people who work in recreational pot should have no more trouble or hassle crossing the border than before.

Know your rights: Some don’t exist at the border

At the same time, maybe don’t go posting photos to social media with a joint in your mouth if you want to come into the U.S. for work-related trips, she said.

“If it comes out that they’re involved in the marijuana industry in Canada where it’s legal, but (customs) finds out they smoke marijuana in Canada where it’s legal, that’s an act that’s a violation of U.S. federal law, she said. Customs agents “could determine someone to be a drug abuse or addict because they have admitted to committing that act. They could be deemed inadmissible on those grounds.”

Remember, however, that individuals crossing the border have no rights to privacy, an attorney or to withhold any passwords or codes demanded by border guards, unless they’re being arrested, Fiegel said. But that’s always been the case. If a guard on either side of the border asks for your phone and demands you unlock it, you have to comply.

What about Americans with driving offenses?

One other issue of importance to clarify: If you’re an American with a single drinking or drug-related arrest on your record, whether a misdemeanor or felony, and 10 years have passed since the completion of your sentence, you will still be deemed rehabilitated under Canadian law. If you have two drinking or drug-related driving arrests on your record, no amount of time can pass under which you will be deemed admissible to Canada.

If you’re convicted of a drinking or drug-related driving offense AFTER December 18, this will change, however.

“All these people who committed an offense before December 18 will be grandfathered in. Those regulations state that if five years have passed since the end of the completion of your sentence, and you have only one total conviction on your record, you can file for permanent relief at the Canadian consulate,” Fiegel said. Relief from the government would mean a person can be admitted into the country, but it’s important that the person can prove they qualify as admissible under Canadian law. It’s not up to the Canadian border guards to prove a person cannot come in; it’s up to the person to prove they’re eligible, she stressed.

Otherwise, no amount of time will eliminate the offense under Canadian standards.

Fiegel said the changes in immigration law and border-crossing practices are the hottest topic in certain circles these days, especially in border towns trying to figure out what’s new, what’s not and how the laws will be implemented.

A familiar sense of confusion

“I tell my business partner, I lived through the immigration changes of 9/11. With everything going on right now, between the U.S. administration and how they’re treating immigration in Canada, it’s like a new 9/11. People are scared, people are scrambling. It’s not a bad thing to be scared and scrambling; it’s not a bad thing to get an expert for advice. It’s hard for us and we know the rules. It’s a crazy time. But it’ll settle and we’ll get into a status quo until it shakes up again.”

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