Upcoming changes to Canada's marijuana laws will soon allow Canadians across the country to legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes. But experts warn that this could affect one's ease of travel across international borders, particularly when journeying south to the U.S.
Those who buy legal recreational marijuana at licensed stores or online using credit cards will start to accumulate marijuana transaction histories, as organizations begin to collect consumer data. If such information reaches U.S. border officials, it could have lasting consequences for those individuals, including being banned from the U.S. for life.
According to lawyers, U.S. border officers have the authority to ban individuals they determine as "drug abusers," or those who lie about their marijuana use. A Canadian's marijuana transaction data could therefore be used against the individual at the border, as non-U.S. persons are only protected under Canada's Charter and not under America's Fourth Amendment.
In terms of data privacy, Canada's five major banks warn that an individual's financial information can be stored outside of the Canada and are subject to the laws of the country it's stored in. U.S. authorities can obtain Canadian credit card data under the PATRIOT Act, which was passed as an anti-terrorism law after September 11.
“Any information that goes outside of Canada is up for grabs by local law enforcement,” says former assistant federal privacy commissioner. Heather Black to Global News. “It’s part of the globalization of data. It goes all over the place.”
Lawyers suggest Canadian travellers caught in such situation should refuse answering the question so that they will only get turned away on that one occasion, rather than get banned for life on the spot. Those who do get banned could always apply for a waiver that would allow them to cross the border, however it is an extremely burdensome and expensive process.
Marijuana laws are dictated on a provincial level and will differ between the regions. Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. will have their own online ordering systems and plan to keep all of the data in Canada. Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland and New Brunswick will contract out online ordering, but require contractors to store the data only in Canada.
Where it gets tricky is Manitoba and Saskatchewan — the two provinces will allow licensed private-sector companies to facilitate online sales, which means storage of consumer data is not limited to just Canada.
Even more than this, many of the provinces have yet to declare how marijuana transactions are listed on credit card statements. The only province that has done so is Nova Scotia — there, pot purchases will be entered as NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission), which would effectively disguise the purchases in the data as alcohol. This seems to be the best way to solve the privacy problem.
At this point, the U.S. has not yet released an official policy statement on how the Department of Homeland Security will be dealing with Canada's upcoming marijuana legalization. Until then, Canadians will need to tread with caution when purchasing legal recreational marijuana, even with the new laws.