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Marijuana disclosure blocks entry to U.S.

White Rock
White Rock's Jessica Goldstein was declared 'inadmissible' at the US border after being honest about past marijuana use.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

It seems honesty is not always the best policy for B.C. residents attempting to cross the border into the U.S.

So says White Rock’s Jessica Goldstein, who was told she was “inadmissible” after she and some friends – headed to the Dave Matthews concert at the Gorge – tried to enter the U.S. at the Pacific Highway crossing on Saturday.

When asked by a female customs officer  “have you used drugs, ever?” Goldstein fessed up that she’d smoked marijuana the week before.

While representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not speak specifically to her case, it’s evident the admission was enough to fall afoul of beefed-up federal enforcement of U.S. marijuana laws in the wake of successful state initiatives in Washington and Colorado legalizing possession of small amounts of pot.

The White Rock-born-and-raised Goldstein, 30, said her honest answer prompted “three hours of interrogation and background checks.” She said that even though her truck was searched and nothing was found, she was denied entry because she had admitted she had smoked marijuana in the past.

“I wasn’t hiding anything – I wasn’t breaking the law,” she said. “I have no previous charges or criminal record.”

CBP public affairs officer Michael Milne, in a statement to media emailed Wednesday, said privacy laws prevent discussion of specific cases and individuals.

However, he pointed to sections of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that say that individuals may be considered inadmissible not just for being convicted of a crime “involving moral turpitude” but also for admitting voluntarily they have committed such a crime.

In the definition of criminal grounds of inadmissibility, crimes can include those that violate regulations and laws of “a foreign country” relating to a controlled substance.

Goldstein is upset not only because she is out the $200 she spent on concert tickets and camping – her friends weren’t denied entry, and were able to arrange another ride to the concert – but also because she won’t be allowed back into the U.S. unless she is granted a waiver of inadmissibility. The application fee for that is $585 U.S. – with no guarantee the application will be accepted.

“That sounds like a cash grab to me,” said the full-time university student, noting she owns a vacation cabin in Washington State and crosses the border every week to buy gas and groceries.

“I own property down there. I spend thousands of dollars in the U.S. each year. My father was American and never gave up his citizenship. I have family down in California and I was planning to go visit in a few months.”

Adding to her frustration, she said, is a sense that the Customs and Border Protection is being inconsistent.

“I have been asked the question before, and I’ve always been honest. I’ve been with other people who’ve told the truth, too, and they’ve always let us go. (Officers) have searched the car, haven’t found anything, and it’s been like ‘thank you for being honest’.

“I sort of feel like (the officer) wanted to exercise some power or meet some daily quota.”

While Milne would not comment on Goldstein’s allegations, he pointed to a recent statement by Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, that makes it clear the Department of Justice is emphasizing federal marijuana enforcement in the wake of state ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado that seek to legalize possession of small amounts of pot.

In a paragraph highlighted in the CBP statement, Durkan says: “We will continue an aggressive focus on the promotion and sale of drugs to minors, violence and the use of firearms, and the trafficking of marijuana across state or international lines.”

Goldstein said she’s unsure what her next step is, other than bringing her case to the media.

“I’m considering talking to a lawyer,” she said. “I feel like there should be an appeal process.”

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