How Canadians are treated at the U.S. border seems to depend on which U.S. Customs and Border Protection member is on duty in the booth

Differing reactions to pot talk at the U.S. border

CBP spokespersons say U.S. is a 'welcoming nation', but others suggest marijuana questions are part of a different agenda

How consistent is screening of Canadians crossing the U.S. border into Washington State?

Although a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statement indicates federal marijuana enforcement is being emphasized across the board – in the wake of state ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado that legalize possession of small amounts of pot – the recent experience of White Rock resident Jessica Goldstein and her passengers suggests some Canadians are being hassled more than others, particularly when admitting past use of controlled substances.

While Goldstein was found “inadmissible” to the U.S. on Aug. 31 for admitting marijuana use, her passenger who made a similar admission was not. When the passenger sought to be admitted later the same day, she found the  attitude from another CBP member a complete contrast to the “cold” and “bullying” treatment she, Goldstein and another companion had received.

That’s no surprise to Belligham immigration lawyer Greg Boos, who agreed the greeting Canadians receive seems to depend entirely on who is on duty in the booth.

“I’ve heard that from a lot of clients – it’s rather like Russian roulette,” said Boos, currently involved in a lawsuit on behalf of business leaders on both sides of the border fighting arbitrary CBP exclusions of B.C. residents.

“Some border officers feel their job is to turn you away, rather than facilitating international trade and commerce.

“When somebody asks a question like ‘have you smoked marijuana, ever,’ it kind of indicates someone who is looking for a reason to turn you away.”

CBP representatives declined Peace Arch News’ efforts to discuss how policy is applied.

In an emailed response, Thomas Schreiber, chief CBP officer in Blaine, said,  “we are not granting interviews at this time on narcotics enforcement at the border and admissibility issues of admitted marijuana users.”

He referred PAN to an earlier CBP statement which said, in part, “the United States has been and continues to be a welcoming nation… U.S. Customs and Border Protection not only protects U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in the country, but also wants to ensure the safety of our international travellers who come to visit, study and conduct legitimate business in our country.”

Goldstein hit the headlines last week after she was declared “inadmissible” to the U.S. She said this was because she had answered honestly when a CBP member at the Pacific Highway border crossing asked if she had ever used drugs. She said she answered that she had smoked marijuana the weekend before.

Her passenger – a South Surrey resident who spoke to PAN this week on condition her name not be published – said she too answered honestly, admitting she had smoked marijuana previously.

Unlike Goldstein, the passenger, who holds a NEXUS pass, was not deemed inadmissible.

But the attempt to cross, at around 8:30 a.m., led to extensive questioning and hours in a holding room, the passenger said.

“I told them I don’t smoke weed anymore, for the reason I get too paranoid,” she said. “The last time was six months ago.”

The passenger said the coolness of the CBP member was apparent from her first questions –  which included whether they were transporting any drugs – and was maintained through the ordeal.

“It was the strangest thing,” she said. “We were forthcoming with all the information we were asked, we were honest, and her attitude to us was just mean, she was absolutely cold.”

The passenger said there was nothing flippant or aggressive in Goldstein’s manner that seemed likely to provoke such response.

“If there had been, I would have smacked her,” she said. “We wanted things to go as smoothly as possible. We all know how to talk to people with respect. We’re good people. We’re not shady people. We don’t fit that profile.

“I think Jess was targeted – I felt like she was, totally, being bullied. I can’t put into words the anxiety that was put into us – the fear (the CBP member) put into us.”

In contrast, the attitude of a different CBP member when she and the other passenger arranged another ride around 4 p.m. to their  intended destination,, a Dave Matthews Band concert at The Gorge, was different.

“We answered all the questions. We were asked if we had anything on us – any food, any weapons, any drugs. We said we were excited to be going to see Dave Matthews, we had bought some duty free liquor and showed the receipt, and it was like ‘OK, have a good time, guys.’”

Questioning lasted less than a minute, she said. “The same song was playing on the radio as we pulled away.”

Although Goldstein’s truck was pulled over and thoroughly searched that morning, it was found clean by CBP members, the passenger said.

She added that, while being interviewed in the CBP office, she was closely questioned in connection with her NEXUS pass, which she recently renewed.

“She (the CBP member) asked me, ‘Did they know you smoked marijuana at the time you first got your NEXUS pass?’ I said they did, and she seemed very doubtful about that.

“I said I used to smoke dope, but I no longer do. She asked me about other drugs; cocaine, ecstacy. I leaned forward and said, as honestly as I could – because it’s the truth – ‘drugs terrify me. I don’t use them.’”

The passenger questioned how many Canadians could be subject to the same treatment for an honest answer about past marijuana use.

“Seriously, how many people have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives, even if it was only once? I felt like asking ‘have you ever smoked it, lady?’

“Jessica wasn’t breaking a law when we tried to cross. We weren’t carrying anything, there was nothing in the truck. The way this was dealt with, the way we were looked at, we might as well have been serial killers.”

 

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