Marijuana stores have been sprouting all over Washington State since retail trade in the drug was legalized in a referendum, but the first one has now opened within walking distance of the B.C. border.
Evergreen Cannabis is aimed squarely at the Canadian market and its Blaine storefront at 922 Peace Portal Drive – with a sign that reads “recreational marijuana store” – is within sight of both the Peace Arch and White Rock.
“I know I am controversial because I am close to the border,” owner Jake Lamont, a Birch Bay resident, told Black Press this week.
To the U.S. border guards stationed just to the north, marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, even though it’s been more than two years since the state voted to legalize possession by adults of up to an ounce and license a network of growers and retailers.
“I don’t worry about it any more,” said Lamont, who expects the Washington and Colorado legalization experiment will be replicated across the U.S.
But he warns his Canadian customers to be careful – bringing weed back to B.C. can result in seizure and criminal charges.
“I let them know ‘Don’t take this across any borders, keep it in the state,'” he said.
Evergreen’s dried pot, priced at $18.83 a gram, comes with warning labels advising it’s for consumption in Washington State only.
But that poses a challenge for cannabis tourists coming from B.C.
“The problem is what you do with it once you buy it – where do you smoke it?” asked Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders. “You’re not supposed to be smoking it in public.”
Saunders also advises Canadian pot enthusiasts to be careful how they answer questions from U.S. border authorities.
“If you admit you’re coming down to buy marijuana or that you’ve ever smoked marijuana in the past, you’re going to get denied entry – period.”
Visitors who deny plans to go pot shopping may be taking a risk if they then immediately park at the nearby pot store, he added.
“It’s literally under the noses of the federal government,” Saunders said. “That’s the irony of this – that it’s still illegal federally but you can buy it within walking distance of the border.”
Lamont said he and his partners are considering opening a private club for marijuana users in Blaine to offer customers a legal smoking lounge.
“It’s necessary for people who are are traveling, on vacation or whatnot to have a place for them to go,” Lamont said. “And it’s especially important to Canadians who are going to be my main clientele.”
The new store is one of more than 100 marijuana retailers and 300 growers that have been licensed in Washington since a 56 per cent state vote in favour of Initiative 502 on recreational marijuana reform in 2012.
B.C. pot activists hope Washington’s experience adds momentum to their agenda to reform Canada’s policy on marijuana.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in 2013 suggested making simple marijuana possession a ticketable offence to give officers a more lenient alternative to criminal charges.
Len Saunders is a Blaine immigration lawyer who frequently deals with Canadians who run afoul of the rules at the U.S. border. B.C. residents who admit past marijuana use, or that they intend to buy pot in Washington, can be denied entry. Black Press file photo.