When I start writing a piece, I sometimes try to come up with a working title that sums up what I am trying to get across. Helps me figure out the tone I am going for. A few I came up with for this one included “Lie Lie Lie: Border Crossing,” “Silver Linings: At Least the Border Guy Was Cute If Someone Has to Look at My Nude Selfies,” and “Hardened Criminals.” I went with the most straight-forward though, “Why the Fight Against Prohibition Matters.”
Let’s start at the beginning. In April, my very dear pin-up friend, Dixie Delight, invited me to join her on a short road trip to Portland, Oregon. She was filming a music video with the awesome people of Pin-up! The Movie. It was beneficial to me, as I had earned myself a place in their interactive documentary and I would meet some of the people involved. (I also haven’t travelled outside of Canada since about 1990, when my folks piled all of us kids in the van and toured as far south as Salt Lake City, Utah.) I found a way to make the trip work with my schedule, even going so far as to arrange an extra day there to explore on my own. Finally, I’d get to go somewhere new.
At the Booth
After a lot of messaging back and forth to iron out the details, the big day came. I made it out to Dixie’s place, we grabbed some coffee, and headed to the Sumas, WA border crossing. We got to the booth, handed the guard our passports, and started answering questions:
“How long are you going for?”
“Why are you going?”
“Where are you staying?”
“When was the last time you were in the States?”
When he heard me say 1990, he gave me a sharp “why?” like I had five heads all of the sudden. At a loss to explain in short form, I told him “life circumstances.”
He handed us a slip of paper, and sent us into the office.
In the Office
By that point, we still thought it was amusing: we are both good citizens with clean records, had cash and hotel reservations, our passports are valid, and definitely had no pot on our persons or in our vehicle … no reason we wouldn’t be allowed in. We thought maybe it had to do with it being a working trip for Dixie, and I was somewhat concerned about my work with Twelve High Chicks. But I wasn’t trying to bring anything across the border, and I’m hardly that prolific compared to some. I’m also shrouded in pseudonyms. I figured worst case they might hassle me a bit, but I wouldn’t have much issue.
We were called up together and answered the same questions asked at the booth, but with more detail. The guard was much nicer than the first one, but maybe a bit green. (See what I did there?) He looked through our purses, but there was nothing to find.
We were still feeling okay — a bit behind schedule by then, but surely we’d still be eating lunch in thirty minutes as planned. And then he asked for our cells.
On My Phone
I had cleared mine, I thought, of anything incriminating, but thought it would look weird if it was blank. The officer took them and our passwords, told us to sit down, sat at his own desk, and started scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling more for about an hour and a half.
Still not too worried.
We joked around a lot, having a laugh about how silly it all was, the amount of time they were spending on a couple of moms who also happen to run around in their underwear a lot for work, as the pictures he would have seen would prove.
Under a Microscope
Then I was called through “the blue door,” as we referred to it thereafter:
“When did you start working for Three Happy Cats?”
“Do you sell marijuana?”
“Do you distribute marijuana?”
“How much, how often do you smoke marijuana?”
“Tell us more about Twelve High Chicks….”
Etc., etc. They kept asking me the same questions in different ways, trying to trip me up. I decided to be honest from the get-go; I figured it was the best way, that I would be okay. Because, while I had spent plenty of time with the now-defunct Three Happy Cats crew, I never had anything to do with the business side of it — to keep me in the clear for reasons such as this. But then, they referenced this picture, so it was pretty hard to deny that I have been in possession of marijuana, in any capacity.
It was not okay. Apparently I am not a special snowflake. At least not to US border services.
Without a Waiver
After they followed up with Dixie, who is also a law abiding citizen, we knew we were in trouble. We went from giggling at the silliness of it all, to realizing this could really suck for us pretty quickly. And we still weren’t sure if they were letting us cross or not.
They took me into another room to make a sworn statement. I had to confirm on paper that I had, at some point in my life, smoked and been in possession of marijuana. I mean, I had lied through my teeth about how often (still not that often) but they had me — they had me good. Halfway through, because I am apparently quite naive, I found out that I was not crossing the border, that day or any day, without a waiver. A very, very expensive waiver. They also suggested I go to rehab for my “addiction problems.” Right.
They called Dixie in after me, she was in the same boat.
So my first attempt at real travel as an adult was destroyed. I’m not allowed in the USA without an expensive waiver that shows I’ve dealt with my “addiction.” It’s pretty stupid, in the grand scheme, that they won’t let two mothers into their country — into states with legal recreational marijuana — who had all their ducks in a row. I just wanted to go to Portland.
Why the Fight Against Prohibition Matters
This is why the fight against prohibition matters. Because I am a “criminal in my own country” I can’t take my kids to Disneyland without that waiver. When I’m ready to travel again I’ll have to book direct flights out of Canada. I’ll never see the inside of a Trader Joe’s. Small things, sure, but they affect my whole family.
I wouldn’t feel quite so bad about it if our Prime Minister wasn’t able to eat dinner at the White House after admitting to smoking pot while he was an MP. Must be nice, to take your time changing laws you promised to change, without repercussions like the rest of us.
After my border incident, I have heard from countless people in the same boat. A stray picture, a post on Facebook, and BAM! forbidden from hitting up Voodoo Doughnuts. The NDP wants to decriminalize marijuana immediately; that would have kept me, and thousands of others, from having an ugly black mark on our records.
At the border they made suggestions such as having a medical marijuana prescription, to make my waiver application go more smoothly. The biggest reason I don’t have one is that I don’t feel I need one, and I choose not to make a mockery of those who do. I respect the system, as it sits. Groan.
My advice to anyone looking to cross the border who recreationally indulges in marijuana? Clear your phone. Factory settings if at all possible. Do a Google search on your name and check your images. And know who you are travelling with, because I can’t help but feel Dixie wouldn’t have had an issue if I had not been with her. And check out Tracy Curley’s article on the same matter, if you are a medicinal user; I should have heeded more of her advice. I wish I would have asked more questions, I wish that I would have been more prepared — don’t be like Penny, prepare yourself. And write your MP, let them know that as long as marijuana is still listed as a criminal offence, good people are being treated like criminals.
On the plus side, we still took a road trip up to the Sunshine Coast. But that story’s for next time….