Recently, hundreds of Canadians in the cannabis industry headed south for MJBizCon, a massive cannabis conference in Las Vegas. One of the attendees was Matt Maurer, the Vice Chair of the Cannabis Law Group at Torkin Manes, who heard first-hand accounts from executives that were intentionally held up at the Canadian border.
“A cannabis executive who flew out of Vancouver was taken into secondary [screening] once they found out that person was going to the conference,” said Maurer in an interview with Cannabis Culture. “From what that person tells me, there were lots of questions about if they were doing business in the United States [or] if they were looking to partner with people in the United States.”
Matt went on to add that once it became clear this executive was simply headed to MJ BizCon for research purposes they allowed him to go through to the conference about two hours later. “The conference was the flag that put them in the secondary, but the conference in and of itself, at least in that instance, wasn’t enough to tell that person they were not coming in.”
The second story of a cannabis executive being stopped at the border because of their profession was similar, except for the fact that this time, the border guards were genuinely curious about the situation.
“This person described it as more of an educational thing,” said Maurer. “The customs agent said the law is clear [for them], but how we interpret it is not so clear. So they were trying to figure that out.” The executive went on to tell them that he didn’t have any business interests for cannabis in the U.S. and if an American company were to ask to do business he would decline at this time. “[He said] we’re there to learn, we’re there to educate ourselves, we’re there to see what’s new in terms of products and brands so that we can use that information in our business north of the border,” said Maurer.
This particular individual was held up for about 40 minutes but thankfully did not miss his flight. Others were not so lucky. Maurer received a message from this individual who said that they took twelve or more people planning to go out on the flight and pulled them aside and then asked why they were going down. The executive said he was going to a conference and then he was immediately put into secondary screening.
“[The executive said] that they didn’t even really ask questions, they just made them sit there for a really long period of time. [The border patrol] laughed about it, they were obviously joking about it and having a good time and once the gate had closed they said ‘ok you can go ahead,’ and by that point they couldn’t get on the flight.”
It should be noted that these significant problems at the border have been brought up with Prime Minister Trudeau, who is arguably the only one with enough clout to discuss this with the Americans. Trudeau has been largely unsupportive of the idea of a dialogue stating in a September 2017 press conference “Canadians appreciate that we don’t let other countries or other leaders dictate who or how we let people into our country, so I’m not going to tell Americans how to make decisions about who they let into their country, either.”
Although that may be the polite thing to do, it’s cold comfort to those of us who do not have a diplomatic passport like our Prime Minister. For in reality, he is the top cannabis executive, having been the one who ushered in legalization in the first place.
Canada ended a 95-year-long prohibition of all things cannabis on Oct. 17 2018. In the U.S., recreational weed is now available in 10 states and medical is accessible in 33. Although that’s significantly more than half of America, at the federal level, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 narcotic and completely illegal.