OTTAWA - Travellers to Canada will be routinely asked whether they are bringing marijuana into the country as Ottawa moves to legalize recreational pot use.
Signs will also be posted at major ports of entry to remind people that the unauthorized importation of pot remains illegal, said Peter Hill, associate vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency.
In addition, the border agency plans a communications campaign through social media to ensure travellers "are aware of the new legislation and the requirements," Hill told MPs on the House of Commons public safety committee.
The Liberals plan to allow adults to legally possess and use small amounts of cannabis by next July, saying it will help keep marijuana out of the hands of young people while denying profits to criminal organizations.
The government is devoting more than $110 million over five years to Public Safety, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure organized crime does not infiltrate the legalized system and to keep pot from crossing borders.
The question to travellers about marijuana will be similar to those that officers already ask about other controlled or prohibited goods, such as firearms, food and animal products, said Jayden Robertson, a border agency spokesman.
"The intent of the cannabis-related question is to encourage traveller compliance regarding importations of cannabis and provide travellers with the opportunity to declare whether or not they are in possession of cannabis," Robertson said in an emailed response to questions.
The border agency hopes the question will reduce the risk of "unintentional violations" of the law, he added.
Under the proposed Cannabis Act, it will remain illegal to import into Canada, or export from Canada, cannabis and related products without a valid permit issued by the federal government.
The unauthorized international cross-border movement of cannabis will still be a serious criminal offence that can result in up to 14 years in prison, the government says.
Plans for signs at the border are "under development," Robertson said.
Although a number of U.S. states have legalized recreational marijuana, pot remains illegal under federal law, which applies at the border. As a result, Canadians have been turned away by U.S. border officials — sometimes for simply admitting they've used it.
Every country has the right to establish the standards that determine who is allowed to enter, said Malcolm Brown, deputy minister of Public Safety Canada.
"So, it wouldn't be, frankly, appropriate for us to counsel the U.S. about changing their approach," he told the Commons committee meeting this week.
But he quickly added that such issues are discussed regularly at the "highest levels" with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "so they understand the approach and we will continue to encourage them, as they do with us, to be as welcoming and supportive of Canadians crossing the border into the U.S. as we try to be generally with Americans coming into Canada."
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