Politics

U.S. border patrol saw bump in pot seizures in Canada's first month of legalization

American border patrol officers have seen a slight increase in the number of travellers trying to get pot across the border since Canada legalized marijuana this fall.

Canada Border Services Agency says there has been no noticeable change

U.S. border patrol officials are warning travellers that cannabis remains an illegal narcotic in the U.S. — and even if you've been granted amnesty for a previous pot-related criminal conviction, you could still be denied entry to the United States. (CBC)

American border patrol officers have seen a slight increase in the number of travellers trying to get pot across the border since Canada legalized marijuana this fall.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they seized 20.49 pounds of marijuana in 197 incidents at the northern border during the month of November, the first full month of legalization. That's up from the same month in 2017, when officers took 7.65 pounds of pot from travellers in 123 incidents.

Despite fears that large numbers of Canadians would be turned away at the border for admitting to cannabis use, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it hasn't seen a dramatic overall change in the number of travellers they've had to reject.

"While there was an increase from passengers, the number of immigration-related enforcement actions (for any of the more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility) did not increase significantly, with 1,922 in 2017 to 2,058 for this year," said a CBP spokesperson in an email to CBC News.

So far, there doesn't appear to be a change on the Canadian side either.

Nicholas Dorion, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said the agency has seen no noticeable change in the number of seizures since legalization day.

Between Oct. 17 — the day recreational marijuana use became legal in Canada — and Dec. 18, Canadian border officers seized 3,898 cannabis products, including dried marijuana and seeds.

Most of the seizures came from non-Canadian travellers.

"Border wait times at Canadian ports of entry have not increased," Dorion added.

Since legalization, the CBSA has come up with a new line of questioning on marijuana use for people passing through Canadian ports of entry.

Possession still criminal in U.S.

The agency also said it expects a number of "unintentional violations" and officers can use their discretion when it comes to determining the proper enforcement measures.​ Dorion said the agency doesn't track the number of verbal warnings it gives travellers.

While some U.S. states have legalized marijuana  — including the border state of Washington — possession remains a criminal offence federally.

U.S. officials have tried to make it clear that Canadians cannot cross the border with marijuana. In the lead-up to Oct. 17, the Canadian government began warning travellers on its website that "previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S."

The Liberal government is working on allowing people to apply for pardons for minor cannabis-related convictions, but the CBP assistant director of border security has said foreign pardons are not recognized under U.S. border admissibility law.

"They could still be found inadmissible," Richard Roberts told reporters back in October. "Yes, the law has changed [in Canada] but really, at the border, this is business as usual for us."

With files from the CBC's Catherine Cullen and JP Tasker

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