Canada legalized cannabis on October 17, but those who have been convicted of simple pot possession in the country will likely be waiting until next year for pardons. That said, being pardoned in Canada for a prohibition-era cannabis conviction does not only not mean a pass for entering the U.S., but could stand to make things worse for some.
Len Saunders, a U.S. immigration lawyer at Blaine Immigration in Washington state, said that Canadian pardons are data that the U.S. border has access to.
“People go, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know it was still on there,’” Saunders said of Canadians who have issues at the border even after getting pardons. “It is scrubbed from a criminal background check… But they have access at the border.”
You can be denied entry at the U.S. border for criminal convictions. This includes cannabis-related convictions since weed remains illegal at the federal level in the United States.
“Really, we don’t recognize the Canadian amnesty. If you’ve been the subject of a violation of U.S. laws, that will still make you inadmissible to our country,” Todd Owen, assistant commissioner of field operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a teleconference, CBC News reports.
Saunders referenced how people who have pot possession convictions from a time when such things were not digitized, like in the 1970s, a pardon could actually cause the U.S. border to have access to information they didn’t previously. Saunders said it can be common for those who’ve had such old cannabis possession convictions to not have these brought up at U.S. ports of entry; but, a pardon they could potentially see.
“It can make them visible,” Saunders said.
Unlike regular pardon applications in Canada, those for simple cannabis possession convictions are to be free once the system is in place. This likely will serve as extra encouragement for those with these types of convictions to apply for a pardon.
“They’re saying they’re going to waive the fee for pardons… But they haven’t fully thought out Canadians who will be in the system,” Saunders said.
On Canada’s day of legalization, U.S. border agents gave warnings to Canadians at a press conference. As part of that, they mentioned that pardons do not guarantee Canadians with prior cannabis convictions will be all good for crossing the U.S. border. As well, they said that Canadians trying to enter the U.S. for weed-related business could get denied, on top of warning Americans who are headed to Canada for pot tourism.
“Border officials are going to find out if you’re lying. Being honest is always the best. If you are dishonest then you could be denied entry and it’s misrepresentation,” one of the guards said, referring to questions at the border about Americans’ cannabis use in Canada.
As for pardons, Saunders said that he’d warn Canadians that they “don’t really mean much” and are more for those having issues passing background checks for employment and the like. And when it comes to the U.S. border, pardons could actually be detrimental for some, according to Saunders.
“You’re almost sitting there serving yourself up on a silver platter,” Saunders said.