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Borderline Insanity: (Don’t) Blame Canada

As Canada prepares to legalize weed nationwide, America picks a new fight to smoke Canadian investment out of the U.S.

President Trump’s border obsession doesn’t just pertain to Mexico anymore. His administration has declared another trade war against our neighbor to the north — or, more specifically, against Canadians who are connected in any way to that country’s legal marijuana trade.

A recent report from Politico confirmed that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is denying Canadian cannabis industry workers and investors entrance into the United States. In some cases, travelers have even been threatened with lifetime bans.   

The California weed industry has benefited tremendously from Canadian investors who are flush with cash. Marijuana stocks in that country are booming as Canada gets set to legalize recreational use nationwide on Oct.  17. 

But even though marijuana is legal in both Canada and in recreational-use border states like Washington or Maine, it remains illegal under federal law. You don’t even need to be carrying pot to get turned away at the border.

“If you work for the industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility,” U.S. Customs executive assistant commissioner Todd Owen told Politico. “We don’t recognize that as a legal business.”

Even San Francisco cannabis firms are feeling a chilling effect from this new northern exposure.

“The policy itself hasn’t changed at all. The enforcement has,” says Benjamin Bradley, co-founder of MilesBradley, a cannabis financial advisor and management firm in San Francisco.

His company does business with several Canadian brands who’ve been turned away at the border, all of whom asked not to be mentioned by name in the press.

“One of the questions asked is what you do for a living and what your business is here,” Bradley says of these border interrogations. “If one were to come out and say, ‘We’re here to invest in cannabis or do research within this market,’ according to federal policy, they do not see that as a legitimate business and you will be denied entry.”

U.S. Customs will now deny entry to a Canadian just for admitting to once using drugs. But they’re also turning back deep-pocketed investors with entirely non-narcotic business interests.

“I connected with a few Canadian clients who develop nanotechnology, and needed the [intellectual property rights] to hold that technology itself,” Bradley tells SF Evergreen. “They weren’t producing in any way. But they just worked in the cannabis industry and were looking to expand into the California market.

“They were denied entry,” he adds.

Firsthand accounts of these border denials indicate the agents aren’t too hostile about it, and the airlines will fly you back home for free.

“There wasn’t any legal fees or fines, or anything applied,” Bradley notes. “However, they were denied access to the U.S.”

One creative method MilesBradley has seen clients employ is to create alternate identities on paper.

“It became an issue to have to create these fictitious companies,” he says. “They make a holistic company, or an agricultural supply company, without actually having to use the word ‘cannabis.’ ”

But even that strategy carries some risk in the drug-question segment of a Customs interview.

“If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,” Customs commissioner Owen told Politico.

Trump famously hates Canada more than any other president in memory, and he’s always itching for another nation-splitting culture war to distract attention from his ghoulish constitutional crises. But the industry may find hope in a constant truism of the Trump administration: Money talks.

“Now we have such a strong Canadian market,” Bradley says. “A lot of that Canadian money is looking to expand to California. The stronger those organized businesses get, the more money that comes into federal lobbying.”

Canadian business travelers’ struggles with marijuana prohibition are a first-world problem compared to the heartbreaking crisis of family separations at the Mexican border. But they are another unpleasant assault in the escalating battles of legal pot policy, and U.S.-Canadian cannabis business prospects seem to be going south.