Three Conservative senators who oppose cannabis legalization warn that "Canadians have reasons to be worried" about legalization after their trip to Washington, D.C. this week.
Sen. Claude Carignan, the critic for Bill C-45, made the journey to the U.S. capital with caucus colleagues Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu and Sen. Denise Batters.
They met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, as well as with "senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection Field Operations Bureau," a joint news release said Thursday.
Carignan said U.S. officials told him cannabis legalization in Canada could cause delays at the U.S.-Canada border. Those delays could be caused by travellers trying to enter the U.S. whose clothes smell like cannabis.
"If they smell, the dogs will catch it and they will be referred to the secondary (inspection) line," Carignan said.
He said U.S. officials told him that Canadians who want Nexus cards, which expedite entry to the U.S., would also be affected by legalization.
"If you admit that you smoke cannabis, that's in contravention of the U.S. legislation, so... you will not receive the Nexus pass," said Carignan, who added that could apply to commercial truck drivers who apply for Nexus cards with U.S. customs authorities.Advertisement
U.S. federal authorities are concerned about increased drug trafficking from Canada into the U.S. after legalization, said Carignan.
Although marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law, it has been legalized for recreational purposes in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Maine, Vermont, Alaska and Massachusetts. A number of other states allow for legal use of marijuana for medical purposes.
In those states, Carignan said U.S. federal officials told him, "new drug cartels are now in operation, and they use legalization to have a legitimate operation, but in fact they are producing more than what they need, and they're doing drug trafficking in the other states in the United States."
"So they have concern that it could happen in Canada," Carignan said.
The senators' meeting with Sessions lasted 45 minutes, said Carignan. Sessions is vigorously opposed to cannabis legalization, and has rescinded Obama-era guidance that told federal prosecutors to avoid prosecuting cannabis businesses in states where the drug has been legalized.
"It was a very good meeting, we discussed more generally about the particularities that they have in Colorado, in California, about drug trafficking, about the issues related to cannabis consumption like youth, transportation, (and the) army reserve."
The senators also met with representatives of anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, as well as with several Senate and congressional advisers from 12 different states.
"They urged Canadian authorities to draw on the American experience to avoid the pitfalls that resulted from legalization," said the news release.
Senators are free to travel where they like, said Independent Sen. Tony Dean, but Carignan, Boisvenu and Batters "don't speak for the Senate, they don't speak for Canada."
"It looks to me like three Conservative senators who oppose progressive drug reforms went to Washington and spoke to conservative Americans who oppose progressive drug reforms, and I'm sure that they had a good time and reached quick agreement," said Dean, who is sponsoring Bill C-45 in the Senate.
The information gathered by the Conservative senators in Washington will not have "a terribly significant impact" on the Senate's ongoing study of Bill C-45, he added.
"It's another input, we've heard it already, it will be weighed in the mix of lots of other advice that has been received" in Senate committees, said Dean.
Carignan, Boisvenu and Batters voted against further study of Bill C-45 on March 22, when Boisvenu described the bill to reporters as "a piece of shit."
The bill passed that vote and continues to be studied by five Senate committees, which will ultimately recommend amendments to the bill. Carignan said nothing he heard from the U.S. officials this week would lead him to recommend a specific amendment.
"Clearly, the message from American authorities is, 'Inform Canadians that it will create delays,'" he said.
Although recreational marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C., Carignan said he didn't explore any aspects of the capital district's legal cannabis industry during the trip.
"I smelled it a couple of times," he said.