Canada is little more than one year away from our next federal election and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has finally — conveniently — fulfilled one of his campaign promises from 2015: recreational marijuana use will become legal in Canada later this year.
The move to do so was politically expedient and comes at a great cost to Canadians.
Concerns over cross-border trade and travel with the United States are currently heightened given the state of trade talks with an increasingly protectionist trade partner.
Everyone recognizes that Canada's prosperity is directly linked to the strength of our trading relationship with the United States — Global Affairs Canada has noted that the “secure and efficient flow of legitimate goods and people are vital to our economic competitiveness and mutual prosperity.”
Canada's co-operation with the United States has always been based on shared values.
Laws pursuing complementary objectives and a shared approach to law enforcement have been integral in our partnership to ensure the security of our two democracies.
All Canadian governments, Liberal and Conservative, have worked to deepen this co-operation with the aim of making travel and trade easier.
That’s why the legalization of marijuana in Canada is a game changer.
“Right now, the United States has the authority to declare someone inadmissible for cannabis use, as well as other crimes related to cannabis,” a senior Canada Border Services Agency official told the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade during our study of the Cannabis Act.
“At the end of the day, we’ve had discussions with our counterparts at Customs and Border Protection and they have indicated that they are not changing their posture at the border.”
Based on this reality, Global Affairs told our committee they will convey the following message to Canadians travelling abroad once marijuana use becomes legal in Canada:
“You may be denied entry to a foreign country if you have previously used cannabis products, whether for medical purposes or not, even if you used them legally in Canada.”
While some proponents of Canada’s impending legislation may point to the legalization of marijuana in some American states, the legalization of marijuana in Canada will almost certainly provide new opportunities for organized crime to traffic marijuana from a jurisdiction where it is legal to one where it is illegal.
The views of American federal administrations — whether Democratic or Republican — have been fairly consistent on this issue. It would be naïve of us to base our policies on the hope that the perspective of the American federal authorities will change.
So what are the consequences of potentially increased American scrutiny at the border?
Professor Christian Leuprecht of the Royal Military College of Canada filed a written brief with the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence arguing that the legalization of cannabis is likely to augment the criminal export of marijuana from Canada.
He predicted that, as U.S. inspections increase, so too will wait times at the border — and so too will the cost of doing business.
"The legalization of cannabis," he wrote, "will come at the expense of the efficiency of cross-border trade.
“Economically, the legalization of cannabis is thus a poor efficiency trade-off in terms of cross-border commerce.”
We need to ask ourselves what the impact of this will be on our Canadian businesses, particularly those who depend on "just-in-time" delivery to the United States.
What immediately comes to mind is the auto sector with shipments that, in the Windsor-Detroit corridor for instance, are highly reliant on bridges or tunnels that can become bottlenecks if subject to long delays and lineups.
These issues, like so many with the legalization of marijuana, have not been adequately taken into consideration by Canada’s current government.
The Trudeau government claims to take a science-based approach to governing but it is clear that when it comes to Canada's most important trading relationship, virtually no analysis has been done on the potential impacts.
The shortcomings of Canada’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana use are particularly glaring given the challenges posed by a more protectionist American administration.
And Canadians will pay the price.
Senator Leo Housakos is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and a former Speaker of the Senate. He represents the division of Wellington in Quebec.