As Canada moves closer to legalizing marijuana, it may have consequences for Whatcom County residents who cross the border, including increased wait times.
That's one conclusion in a new report from Western Washington University's Border Policy Research Institute. The report looks at the impact legalization of marijuana in Canada will have in the Cascadia region, which includes Washington state and British Columbia. Canada is expected to have full implementation of legal cannabis later this year, possibly this summer.
Since marijuana sales are legal in Washington state but still federally illegal in the U.S., the border presents an interesting situation for residents, said Laurie Trautman, director at the institute.
As both B.C. and Washington state cut back criminalizing some aspects of recreational and medical marijuana use, residents may forget that trying to cross a border run by the U.S. federal agents with cannabis in the car is a bad idea.
That could lead to increased border-wait times as agents spend more time questioning people about cannabis use and doing secondary inspections. It could also mean more Canadians will be barred from entering the U.S. or denied participation in trusted traveler programs, according to the report.
Trautman said it is difficult to estimate how much wait times could increase, especially since there are many other factors that impact border traffic. She noted that wait times at the Canada-U.S. border have decreased in recent years because of the weaker Canadian dollar.
It will be interesting to see if wait times increase again after marijuana is legalized in Canada, since the Canadian dollar is expected to remain about where it is now for the near future, Trautman said.
Southbound border traffic into Whatcom County has been on the rise recently in part due to high gas prices in British Columbia. In January and February nearly 1.8 million people crossed the five border crossings into Whatcom County, a 10.8 percent increase compared to the same time a year ago.
Authors of the report also expect a decrease in the amount of wholesale marijuana being illegally shipped into Washington from British Columbia as "profitability of trafficking a substance that is legal on both sides of the border diminishes."
If that happens, it could mean border agents would be able to allocate more resources to other illicit trafficking of drugs, such as cocaine and fentanyl, according to the report.
To see the full report, visit the Border Policy Institute's website.