'Tell the truth' if U.S. border guards ask about legal pot use, lawyer advises
CBC Asks panel addresses lingering questions about cannabis on eve of legalization
Starting Wednesday, the laws around the consumption and sale of cannabis will change dramatically, and along with that could come uncomfortable questions for anyone attempting to cross the border into the U.S.
Winnipeg lawyer Tracey Epp advises travellers to follow one simple rule: honesty is the best policy.
"Tomorrow night or sometime this weekend when you go to try and get into the United States, I can almost guarantee you are going to be asked whether or not you have consumed cannabis, and my advice is you tell the truth," she said.
The consequences for people who admit to smoking pot to U.S. border officers remain hazy, but the consequences of lying at the border are clear.
"It can result in you being either temporarily or permanently barred from trying to enter into the United States or any other country," said Epp.
Lawyer Tracey Epp says honesty is the best policy:
Epp was part of a panel of experts organized by CBC Manitoba, discussing what the legalization of cannabis will mean for Canadians. Many people in the audience at The Forks wondered about how they can stay on the right side of the law when it comes to pot.
One audience member named Georgia said she has a prescription and has taken it across the border into the U.S. many times, and she asked if the law had changed.
"The law hasn't changed, you just haven't been caught," Epp replied.
Others in the audience had questions and concerns about the impacts of cannabis on their physical and mental health.
One audience member asked about what effect it would have if she consumed the legal purchase limit of 30 grams of cannabis. Delta 9 Cannabis CEO John Arbuthnot chuckled at what he jokingly called a "loaded" question, which drew a swift rebuke from the audience member.
"You laugh, but that is the purpose of this meeting. Because all day long I've been brainwashed into thinking this is a wonderful thing, like New Year's Eve, we've gotta look forward to it. I don't happen to be of that persuasion, right now," she said.
Addictions and health experts say the effects vary depending on the amounts taken, the method of ingestion and the person ingesting it.
While inhaling any burnt substance damages the lungs, smoking cannabis has not been shown to increase risk of lung cancer, said Dr. Paul Daeninck, an oncologist and cannabis researcher at the University of Manitoba.
Vaporizing cannabis, which heats it up to the point that it releases the chemicals without burning the plant, or taking edible oils might be safer methods of consumption, according to Neil Johnston, president and CEO of the Manitoba Lung Association.
"Our bottom line is don't smoke it. Everything else is up to you and your [health-care] provider," he said.
Dr. Paul Daeninck describes the effects of consuming too much cannabis:
Addiction and mental health
Overdose and addiction concerns also weighed heavily on audience members' minds. Although you can't die from consuming too much cannabis, some people may react poorly if they consume too much, Daeninck said.
"They may even feel very paranoid, to the point where they need some medical sort of assistance," he said.
Cannabis holds out the promise of relief for many people suffering various medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and chronic pain, but Daeninck urges caution.
"I think one has to be cautious not to over-promise what you can deliver with cannabis," he said. "The idea that it is going to cure a disease or a condition is oversold."
Sheri Fandrey, head of the Knowledge Exchange Centre at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said marijuana can be addictive, but the risk of addiction is much greater for youth and heavy users than for the average adult.
However, concerns about cannabis being a "gateway" to using harder drugs has been largely discredited, Fandrey said.
"There's no evidence of that with cannabis. In fact, there's no evidence of that with almost any drug."
Dr. Sheri Fandrey explains who may be at risk of addiction: