Only northerners will know, but Canada has been a popular party destination for several generations of young Americans. Ever since the mid-1980s, when the last few U.S. states raised the drinking age to 21 years old, Canada has had an obvious allure for thirsty-but-frustrated college-age adults living in college-heavy places within driving distance of the border like Boston, Vermont, upstate New York and Detroit.
Beginning Oct. 17, when marijuana legalization becomes “official” and cannabis will be sold in state-sanctioned retail stores, there will be yet another reason for Americans to visit Canada — and unlike a frat house’s boozy pilgrimage, the draw of legal cannabis is not age-specific. Also unlike alcohol tourism, cannabis tourism is likely to cause all kinds of problems at the border — for Americans.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has already created tension along one of the world’s safest borders by denying entry into the U.S. to Canadians who admit to smoking marijuana. (Current federal law allows for “drug abusers” to be permanently, for life, denied entry into the United States — and anyone who admits having used cannabis once in the last year can meet that definition.)
And as the Washington Post reported, Americans who travel to Canada for reasons of pot tourism and dare return home with any leftover treats will also risk severe punishment — a real issue for anyone living in urbanized areas like Detroit, which lies just across the river from Canadian cities like Windsor.
Customs’ ill-treatment of American citizens for cannabis would be a step beyond, but one that can be expected, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attitude towards marijuana.
As the paper observed, “U.S. citizens who try to cross back into the United States carrying marijuana bought legally in Canada to states where it is legal to have it could be arrested at the border crossings for possession — or drug smuggling — and face stiff fines or years in jail.”
And though Sessions does not run the Department of Homeland Security, which manages Customs, that agency’s anti-cannabis attitude is well-documented—and early indications are that DHS is happy to enforce federal marijuana law, regardless of what individual states are doing.
“CBP is always concerned about criminal activity at our U.S. borders,” the agency told the Post in a statement. “CBP officers are the nation’s first line of defense, including prevention of illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. U.S. federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP officers will continue to enforce that law.”
Windsor already has casinos and a drinking age of 19 years old. When the city adds recreational marijuana dispensaries, the crossing between the two cities—already the second-busiest between the two countries; Windsor’s mayor says he frequently pops over to the U.S. for lunch at a favorite Thai restaurant — is only going to increase, thanks in part to marijuana.
Jon Liedtke, the owner of Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge in Windsor, says he has every intention to welcome American tourists — despite what risks they may face while attempting to head home. “All of the Americans are going to be welcome,” he told the newspaper. “Getting back, though, is going to be an issue.”
And an issue that may not need forcing. In November, Michigan voters are likely to approve statewide marijuana legalization. Though it may be months or a year or more before recreational cannabis stores open in the state — given the myriad difficulties medical cannabis dispensaries have dealt with — it will only be a matter of time. And that’s time best spent not in the care of U.S. border officials.
TELL US, have you ever partaken in cannabis tourism?