For much of 5,525 miles, nothing besides a 20-foot stretch of lawn separates the United States and Canada. The two countries’ border is the longest in the world, and —generally speaking — is also one of the least-defended and easiest to cross. That 20 feet of grass cut through remote forest was put there to remind unsuspecting crossers that there is, in fact, an imaginary line there.
And thanks to Canada’s experiment with recreational marijuana legalization, which officially began this week, the border could also become one of the safest and smoothest international crossings in the world. That is, as long as the U.S. plays along and chooses not to make cannabis the reason for one of the world’s longest and most pointless traffic jams, according to a recent study.
The northern border is not known for rampant lawlessness, or as the main source of illicit material flowing into the United States — though both Canadian cannabis and harder drugs such as fentanyl are believed to enter the country via Canada. In any event, border security should improve remarkably thanks to marijuana legalization, researchers with the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University found in a study published earlier this year.
The reasons why are simple. If cannabis is legal on both sides of the border — as it will be in the British Columbia-Washington state border, the most-trafficked port of entry in the western border, and as it may be at the Detroit-Hamilton, Ontario crossing, if Michigan legalizes cannabis in November — there is no incentive to move marijuana across the border in bulk. That should in turn free up authorities on both sides of the border to pursue more serious crime. That sounds basic (and it is) but it’s also a fulfillment of one of marijuana legalization’s fundamental promises.
“Legalization on both sides of the border… should decrease illicit flows of cannabis into Washington, as the profitability of trafficking a substance that is legal on both sides of the border diminishes,” the authors wrote. “This applies not only at the ports-of-entry, but also for large-scale trafficking operations between ports-of-entry.”
“If true, this would enable U.S. Border Patrol and the RCMP to dedicate resources to other illicit flows that are known to cross the Canada-U.S. border and are directly associated with transboundary criminal organizations, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.”
The problem is that such a basic and reasonable improvement to the border situation requires the reasonable cooperation of the United States. And as has been widely reported, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Officials have chosen to react to Canadian marijuana legalization by searching cars and denying entry to Canadians brazen or honest enough to cop to using cannabis.
As the researchers found, “if legal cannabis sales are any indication of usage trends, the region is likely to see a growing number of consumers.”
“This could result in ports-of-entry like Peace Arch/Douglas, the second busiest passenger crossing on the Canada-U.S. border, dedicating a disproportionate amount of inspection time and space to issues related to personal consumption/possession of cannabis,” they added. “This has the potential to ‘thicken’ the border by consuming infrastructure and staffing resources….”
So there’s a choice: React to legalization by treating cannabis differently. Or following federal law to the letter, treat cannabis as a public menace and ask each and every person trying to enter the U.S. about their detailed marijuana history and blow time and taxpayer cash by tossing cars in a quest to find a few scraps of B.C. bud bought legally at a store.
It’s clear which option would improve national security and ease the flow of commerce.
TELL US, do you think you should be able to cross borders with cannabis?