Canada legalized the use of cannabis in October, becoming the second country in the world to give its citizen legal access to marijuana. While the new law has garnered many cheers inside the country, Canadian citizens in the United States are concerned about obstacles that the policy change might bring to them.
Last month, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that residents of towns neighboring the Canada-U.S. border are facing increasing difficulties entering the U.S. because of previous usage of the drug.
While medical and recreational cannabis is legal in several parts of the U.S., including California, eight other states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. federal law classifies it as a Schedule I drug on par with heroin. This law means that any foreign resident who admits to possessing, distributing, selling and producing the drug can be barred from entering the country, face stiff fines and spend time in jail.
Essentially, U.S. Customs and Border Protection can ask Canadians whether they have ever used drugs, and if they say yes or refuse to answer they can face travel complications or sent back home.
While all Canadians share concern on the similar difficulties with regard to international travel, it is especially worrisome to a specific segment of the population who frequently travel and are more likely to take part in the new social trend: college students.
At its base level, the law allows Canadian citizens 18 years and older to possess, share and buy regulated cannabis, as well as food and drink that contain cannabis. The law itself has three goals: to keep cannabis out of the hands of children, to prevent drug money from entering the hands of criminals, and to protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to safe, legal cannabis.
According to a World Health Organization study in 2009, 28 percent of Canadian citizens aged 15-18 have used cannabis.
USC freshman Julia Leeb is a student from Montreal whose knowledge about the evolving cannabis situation in Canada is more in depth than that of the average citizen, given the fact her father is in the cannabis manufacturing industry. She says a huge segment of Canadian citizens already use cannabis.
"I think obviously the younger people or the millennial generation who didn't grow up thinking that weed was the worst drug ever will be more accepting of the change," said Leeb. "Even in Montreal, the stoner culture has been huge even before this bill was even thought of — with where it's just so commonplace to smoke weed or see vape shops or learn how to roll joints that right now, this culture is just kind of aligned with the law."
She is also concerned about how she might be impacted by strict U.S. immigration policies.
"My mom definitely had a conversation being like, you know, they're going to ask you now at the border, when I come to school from home, something along the lines of 'Have your purchased any marijuana-affiliated products within your stay in Canada?' And I don't know how much of an effect that's going to affect my ability to enter the U.S.," said Leeb.
Professor Patrick James, dean of the Dornsife School of International Relations and an expert on Canadian politics and current events, is not surprised by this.
"I think cannabis is already a large part of Canada's culture since the punishments are not as dire or jail sentences are very rare for people using it in small quantities," he said. "It's been liberalized and softened over the decades, and I think now with full legalization, cannabis culture will only continue to grow."
If the cannabis culture among the younger generation continues to develop, then it is possible that within a few years, most, if not all, of Canada's younger generation would have experimented or tried cannabis at least once in their lifetime. Already, the perception of Canada in the international community is changing.
"This new legislation reinforces the assumption in the international community that Canada is somewhat closer with liberal social democratic policies than most other counties," said James.
As the new viral "stoner culture," a culture where it is becoming widely accepted to consume and experiment with cannabis, spreads in millennials, it has the potential to cause complications with regard to international travel.
For Canadian millennials who wish to travel and study abroad, not only will this discourage educational progress such as the opportunity to learn new languages, cultures, ideas, technologies, etc., but it could also make it harder to create networks and develop relationships with people from other countries.
"In the short term, Canadian citizens will face difficulty as global citizens get used to the new law," said James. "This is not unlike the time prior to 9/11 where people felt comfortable bringing all kinds of objects on a plane but afterward became much more careful and suspicious."
"I could see why people who come in from Canada who answer that question (would become) a little suspicious," he said. This may cause problems like longer wait times and document mishandling. "That alone is enough to give you a real problem."