Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Tomorrow's cannabis-related problems, today

There's no need to wait until after legalization: if Canadians want to be detained by U.S. border officials for smelling like cannabis, they can do it today. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

There's no need to wait until after legalization: if Canadians want to be detained by U.S. border officials for smelling like cannabis, they can do it today. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

Will legal cannabis make it harder for Canadians to cross the border into the U.S.?

That's the concern of some senators on the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. The committee grilled Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on the topic on Monday.

One of the committee's questions was a perfect example of a political dialogue that's been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months: People opposed to cannabis legalization point out a hypothetical problem that they expect to occur after legalization, and ask the government whether it has considered that scenario.

In response, the Liberal government always gives some version of the same answer: That hypothetical problem is already happening today, and legalization could give us a chance to address it.

Here's the example from Monday's committee meeting. Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, who voted against continuing to study C-45 last week, posed the following situation to Goodale (in French):

"If you've smoked marijuana, sometimes the odour remains on your clothing. And if a sniffer dog smells it, you may be delayed, there may be secondary inspection, and your entry to the United States may be delayed or prohibited. And some people transport marijuana for X or Y reasons, in a truck. Let me give you an example. A trucker might go and get oranges in Florida, and if there is the odour of marijuana on the driver, then his or her entry at the border crossing may be delayed several hours."

In reply, Goodale said the same thing he and his colleagues have been saying for months:

"Senator Dagenais, the potential problems that you identify actually exist today. Because there are some people, even though marijuana is illegal, who consume the product now and approach the border. If the border guard on the U.S. side has reason to be suspicious, they are entitled, in the application of American law, to ask questions or require secondary screening and so forth. So for the problem you describe, it exists right now."

Liberal government ministers have applied this talking point to issues ranging from youth drug abuse to drug-impaired driving to workplace impairment.

That stock government reply, it must be said, has the ring of truth. Canadians have been using cannabis for years, and criminal prohibition of the drug offers few public policy options for dealing with the associated social problems. Just like Goodale said, those problems won't be created by the act of legalizing cannabis.

National Post columnist Chris Selley addressed this dynamic in a fiery column last week called "Listening to senators debate marijuana bill convinced me we need to abolish the Senate."

"On innumerable fronts, senators weighed in as if the government were inventing marijuana rather than legalizing it," wrote Selley.

"Condominium and apartment dwellers are grappling with the prospect of their homes being infiltrated by the odour of second-hand cannabis smoke,” Senator Judith Seidman fretted. (Welcome to my condominium building.)

"Senator Yonah Martin wondered if Canadian servicemen would be allowed to show up for duty high. (Can they show up drunk?)

"Martin wondered if teachers would have to tolerate high students if they were of legal age to consume it. (Obviously not.)"

Like any big social change, legalizing cannabis is sure to involve some challenges. But let's not pretend those challenges will be new — kids are already using marijuana, Canadians are already using it before they drive or go to work, and yes, a Canadian who drives up to the U.S. border reeking of bong water is already taking a big risk.

The real question is, will legalization actually give Canada's government new tools to address those problems?


New on The Leaf

  • Cannabis Conservatives: Former federal finance minister Joe Oliver is the third Harper Conservative to enter the legal marijuana business after exiting government.
  • Indigenous perspectives: Canadian Senators who sit on the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples told The Leaf about their concerns with legalization.
  • Border patrol: Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a Senate committee he doesn't see why legalization of cannabis should tie up traffic at the Canada-U.S. border, despite the fears of Conservative senators.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • A tiny big problem: Spider mites scare the heck out of cannabis growers everywhere. CTV London's Kathy Rumleski explores how local producer WeedMD keeps the little guys at bay.
  • Marijuana link in murder mystery: Murdered Apotex exec Barry Sherman was working to develop a cannabis-based pharmaceutical product, reports Kevin Donovan for the Toronto Star.
  • Think of the animals: A pair of Red Deer, Alta. veterinarians are concerned that local cannabis regulations won't protect their furry clients from sniffing out weed and snarfing it up.

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