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Cannabis U.S. clears up rules for cannabis industry workers crossing border

Part of cannabis laws and regulations

The U.S. government has clarified that Canadians who are employed in the country’s legal cannabis industry are allowed to enter the United States for non-work purposes without negative repercussions at the border.

In a revised statement on its cannabis policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said: “A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S.”

The new wording eased concerns in sectors of the Canadian economy that are involved in the cannabis trade. Many people had feared that the U.S. government’s restrictive approach meant that if they tried to enter the United States, their names could end up on lists of individuals who are not allowed to cross the border.

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Before the clarification was issued this week, the U.S. border agency said that employment in the cannabis industry could “affect admissibility to the U.S.” Senior officials at licensed producers, lawyers and industry consultants had cancelled or postponed trips for fear of being turned back and being flagged in border security records.

Patricia Olasker, a partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP

“People are now breathing a collective sigh of relief,” said Patricia Olasker, a partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP. "I think a lot of trips are back on. I think people will fundamentally change their behaviour starting today.”

Allan Rewak of the Cannabis Council of Canada, which represents many major producers, added the move was a “positive sign of the continued normalization of the Canadian cannabis sector.”

Still, Ms. Olasker said people should be cautious if they plan to conduct business in the United States.

“There is still plenty of risk for lawyers and other advisers travelling to the U.S. to advise companies in the U.S. industry, but that’s a manageable risk," she said. "You can choose to do that or not, without fundamentally affecting your business, within your own borders.”

Meanwhile, organizations across Canada are announcing their workplace policies on the use of cannabis, adding to a patchwork of rules for people in so-called “security-sensitive positions.”

On Wednesday, Correctional Service Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency announced that their employees will have to refrain from consuming cannabis in the 24 hours before the start of their shifts.

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The RCMP also confirmed that it will forbid gun-carrying officers, pilots and other officers involved in potentially dangerous activities from consuming cannabis in the 28 days leading to a shift.

The rules for police officers vary widely. In Calgary and Quebec City, officers are asked to abstain from cannabis consumption. Cities including Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver are simply asking their officers to be “fit for duty.”

Jean-Sébastien Fallu, a researcher on drug addiction at the University of Montreal, said restrictive limits are not realistic and hard to apply.

“A police officer who smokes cannabis one evening will be fit for duty the following morning,” he said.

He added that there is no scientific basis to justify a 28-day ban, and that the RCMP policy “makes no sense.”

The RCMP justified its rule by pointing to questions in the scientific community on the long-term cognitive impact of cannabis. In addition, the RCMP pointed out that Mounties can be recalled for emergencies with little notice and need to be ready.

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“Without established scientific information about cannabis impairment, the RCMP policy is taking a careful approach at this time, to ensure workplace and public safety is maintained at all times,” the force said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new policies will be hard to enforce, as the cannabis legislation did not change the rules governing workplace testing. Federal employees cannot be the subject of random drug tests.

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