Ottawa asks U.S. to note cannabis pardons to ensure accurate picture

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Ottawa is encouraging Washington to take careful note of criminal pardons granted to Canadians for pot possession so that U.S. officers have the most accurate information when deciding whether to let people cross the border.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he made the point to a receptive Kevin McAleenan, the acting U.S. secretary of homeland security, during a meeting in Washington this week.

"It is important for the records that are kept on the American side to reflect the accurate legal status of Canadians," Goodale said in an interview.

Parliament is studying a government bill that would ease the process of obtaining a pardon for possessing a small amount of cannabis now that recreational use of the drug is legal in Canada.

Under the legislation, which is before the Senate, Canadians convicted of simple pot possession over the decades before legalization could apply for a pardon, also known as a record suspension, without the usual fee or waiting period.

The RCMP cautions that Canadians convicted of cannabis-related offences could be refused entry to the U.S., even if they have been granted pardons in Canada.

Goodale said while U.S. officials have the right to decide who enters their country, Canada wants to ensure the Americans make decisions based on comprehensive data.

"There may be old information, or it could be conflicting information," he said. "And we just want to make sure that it's as complete and accurate and current as it can be, so that people are not unduly or improperly impeded at the border."

Goodale said the U.S. agreed to work with Canada on the issue.

When possession and sharing of small amounts of marijuana became legal in Canada last October, it sparked concerns that more Canadians would be questioned at the border about pot, or even turned away.

Many U.S. states allow medical or recreational use of marijuana. But it means nothing when crossing the border because cultivation, possession and distribution of the drug remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The border falls under federal jurisdiction, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers can deny Canadians and other non-citizens entry on a number of marijuana-related grounds.

These include a pot conviction in the U.S. or abroad, an admission of use without a conviction, or reason to believe someone is a drug addict or involved in trafficking.

A traveller could also be turned away if the federal officer believes they will violate the Controlled Substances Act by smoking pot, even in a state like Colorado or Washington where it's legal.

Once ruled inadmissible, a traveller might require a special waiver to enter the U.S.

Goodale said the Americans acknowledged this week that the border procedures "have worked pretty well" to date.

"There haven't been the lineups and the disruption that some people had expected might happen after the law was changed," he said. "And that's a tribute to the good work of border officials on both sides.

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