Crossing Borders: The Stark Differences between the US and Canada
I arrived in Buffalo New York on Friday afternoon and caught a pre-arranged cab to the Canadian border. I am always afraid that Canadian Customs will delay me for an extended period of time and I usually try and steel my nerves for this unavoidable consequence of traveling as head of the US Marijuana Party.
This was the first time I had ever crossed the Canadian border by land. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The cab driver handed my passport to the border guard and was asked to roll down the back window so the guard could see me.
The guard asked all of the standard questions.
“What is your reason for visiting Canada?”
Since I am always honest with Customs I told him that I was there to speak at a conference.
“Where will you be speaking?”
“At the Niagara Falls park.”
“What will you be speaking about?”
“American influence on Canadian drug policy.”
“Are you for or against American influence on our policy?”
“I am against it.”
“Do you have any pot on you?”
“No. Americans come to smoke your pot so we don’t bring our own.”
“What will I find if I run your passport?”
“You’ll find that I am leader of the US Marijuana Party and that I cross the US/Canadian border often.”
To the cab driver, “Where are you taking her?”
Cabbie: “The Holiday Inn on Murray.”
The guard then looked at me and with a mischievous grin said
“Welcome to Canada…and bring me something back when you come through on Sunday.”
Welcome to Canada indeed.
It is nice to be welcomed with open arms to another country.
Never Eat Thai Food after flying.
On the way to the hotel my cab driver, having heard the conversation with the Border Guard, expressed an interest in learning more about my work. So I filled him in as much as I could in the few minutes we had left. When we arrived at the hotel I had expected to meet my ride who had the cab fare, pay the cabbie and embark on my weekend adventure.
However, my ride got a little lost and hadn’t made it to our designated meeting point yet. I called the cell number I was given but got voicemail.
I didn’t have my credit card on me so I couldn’t pay the cabbie.
He decides that he will wait with me for a little bit and we continue our conversation about pot and drug policy.
“So you guys are going to be in the Queens Park tomorrow having a conference and smoking pot”? The cabbie asks.
“Yes. It starts at 10 a.m. at the library and later on we will march down to the park for a rally. If you are off tomorrow or have some time after work why don’t you join us?”
“I’ll try. I’d love to be there. Here is my cell phone number. Please call me tomorrow and before you leave.”
About this time my ride calls to tell me that it will be another 30-45 minutes before they arrive. I relay this message to the cabbie.
“That’s no problem but I can’t wait with you that long. Let me see what I can do about the cab fare.”
He gets on the radio with his boss and tells him the situation. Near the end of this conversation he says to his boss, “She is head of the US Marijuana Party so I know she is good for it. She’s legit.”
Apparently that was good enough for his boss because he came back and said, “No worries it is all taken care of.”
“Wow. You don’t know me at all and you are willing to drive away without your money?”
“Well it isn’t everyday that the president of the US Marijuana Party rides in your cab. I’ve only been driving for two months but I never thought I would meet anyone famous. You enjoy your weekend in Canada and call me tomorrow.”
Man, I love Canadians.
I sat outside in the chilly Canadian air for a few minutes then decided to go in the bar and have a drink to warm me up, take the edge off my day and make the wait for my ride go faster. I wound up having two Long Island Iced Tea’s and by the time my ride arrived I was feeling no pain.
After exchanging suffocating neck hugs and some unadulterated joy at finally meeting each other face to face I load my things into the van and we strike out for London, Ontario for the night.
The ride was about two and a half hours long for which my host profusely apologized. Apologies were not necessary. I was extremely glad to have made it across the border unmolested and to have found a cab driver that let me off without paying $60 because of who I am.
In my world that is called “batting a thousand.”
We talked and laughed so much on the ride to London that my vocal cords became sore and I began to sound raspy. My host called home to check in with the family and was informed that the cupboards were bare and we should eat before we got home.
“Do you like Thai food?” my host asked me.
“That sounds good. It will be light and maybe it won’t knock me out.”
We proceed to a Thai restaurant where I ordered some things of which I had a basic understanding of the ingredients but could not pronounce. I had not eaten all day and since we had shared some goodie on the road I had a serious case of the munchies.
When my food arrived I devoured it. The spring roll, filled with cabbage and other goodies was divine as were the fried wanton noodles with sausage balls and peppers inside. The cashew chicken was superb.
Feeling full and satisfied we depart on the final leg of our journey. So far, it had been a stellar day for me and I was looking forward to meeting the rest of my host/sponsor family, settling in for the evening and preparing my speech notes for the next day. Life was good.
All of a sudden a nuclear bomb went off in my lower intestine.
“Ruuuumble” “gurgle gurgle” “bubble”
I involuntarily clenched all of the muscles in my entire body.
The pain was akin to that of giving birth to a 20-pound breech baby unaided by modern pain medications.
I broke out in a cold sweat and cradled my swelling, rebelling gut with my arm. A wave of nausea washed over me. I tried not to double over because I didn’t want my host to be aware of the bowel mutiny going on right next to her.
I’m thinking “Dear sweet Jesus that hurts………. Owwwwwwwww” and immediately after “God I hope she didn’t hear that racket.”
I closed my eyes and hoped desperately that my host wouldn’t look over and see the brow-furrowed, jaw-clenched, grimace I was suddenly sporting.
How exactly would I explain that I suddenly felt like the character Dexter from “Dexter’s Lab” in the “Critical Gas” episode where he had a large bean burrito for lunch and suffered such awful gas pains that he became convinced he was going to die and wrote out his will?
How, as a distinguished guest in a foreign country to address important political issues, was I to explain to my host that I was either about to puke or shit, or both, with such ferocity that it was likely to launch me through the roof of the automobile?
Canadians and the rest of the world already think Americans are rude and this certainly would not help repair that image.
Then, as suddenly as the mutiny began it was over.
My first emotion after the red haze of pain receded was gratitude and a promise to myself that I would never eat Thai food again. My second was jubilation that my embarrassing episode had apparently gone undetected by my host and that I still had my dignity.
Whew! That was a close call.
Let this serve as a warning to you, dear reader. Air travel, alcohol and anything containing cabbage, sausage and peppers is a highly volatile and combustible combination.
The rest of the evening was spent in my hosts’ lovely, warm home and discussing politics, family life and the exciting day ahead.
HWY 420 Cannabis Conference
The day of the conference dawned bright and clear. We rose early and after we picked up another passenger we headed back to Niagara Falls for the festivities.
The conference room at the Library on Victoria Ave. was packed with activists. There were two long tables loaded with high quality literature provided by Frank Discussion, a long time drug policy reform advocate and member of the Cannabis Culture forums.
There were also loads of hemp and pot cookies provided by “puff mama” and a piñata bearing the likeness of Anne McClellan.
As I looked around the room I saw many faces I recognized.
Tim Meehan, Alison Myrden, Jeff Merklinger (a.k.a. Cannabian), Sinshune, puff mama, Matt Mernagh, James101, Gooey, Whirlwind and the Goodwin’s, owners of “Up In Smoke” café, with their new baby were all in attendance.
Others that I had not met in person but who knew me began to come over and introduce themselves. Many neck hugs were exchanged and it was wonderful to finally put faces with names.
Travis, who traveled over 4 hours to attend, introduced himself and asked if he could be the first Canadian to contribute to my election campaign. I accepted his offer of a contribution. Then he told me he was on unemployment and I felt bad about taking his $100. I almost gave it back to him. I knew that he could probably scarcely afford that donation. But, looking at him and that genuine smile on his face I knew that giving me that money meant a great deal to him and that if I tried to give it back I might offend. So I gave him a huge neck hug and sincere thanks instead.
I am still very touched by that whole episode.
I find it is often the people who can least afford to contribute that make the most contributions.
Thank you again Travis.
Puff Mama was the first speaker and she gave us all a very informative and poetic presentation about the benefits of eating things made from hemp and/or with cannabis.
I understand this was her first time speaking in public and she did a bang up job. Thanks for the cookies Puff Mama. They helped me keep a level head when going through Fortress America the re-entry process.
Anthony C. Brucato , a deaf presenter and his interpreter, Dr. Gail Rothman, both representing the Rochester Cannabis Coalition, gave a presentation on the New York State Medical Marijuana Bill
David Malmo-Levine was called upon to draw the numbers for the raffle. David is one of those people with the ability to make anything fun, exciting and humorous. He called the numbers with the skill of a trained auctioneer.
Next up was a panel discussion about medical marijuana, compassion clubs and big pharma. The great activists on this panel covered all of the many points on these two topics with complete accuracy. At the end the audience was invited to ask questions of the panel. Audience participation is an important first step in getting people involved in activism and one that I find is often overlooked at events and conferences.
The next presenters’ topic was a shock to me. Ian Levine from Pardons Canada informed the audience that if they had ever been arrested, photographed and fingerprinted by the police, regardless of whether they were charged with anything, that they had a criminal record. He then explained the process of getting your record removed.
This record, he informed the audience, could cause you to be denied entry into the United States.
My first thought was why on earth would anyone who could possibly avoid it enter the US these days?
Another raffle was held and then we took a break for lunch.
After lunch it was my turn to address the audience. Throughout the morning it had been repeatedly announced that I was in attendance and would be speaking. Loud, enthusiastic applause, whistles, hoots and hollers always followed these announcements.
I love Canadians.
And apparently they are quite fond of me and as they have deemed me an honorary Canadian, a very distinguished title, which I am most honored to hold.
I had no prepared speech. I find I am more comfortable in some venues speaking off the cuff and injecting more of my personality into the discussion. My topic was American influence on Canadian drug policy and I opened my talk with the question that occurred to me after Ian Levine’s presentation.
“Mr. Levine’s presentation was very informative and useful but I have to ask you why anyone who did not absolutely have to cross the border into the US would do so?”
I spoke a little about how I got started in activism, but kept that part short, as most in the room were familiar with my story. I wanted to shake the audience up and leave no doubt in their minds about what to expect as the US becomes more involved in Canadian drug policy. I told them about the prison crisis in Alabama and that the largest percentage of inmates are non-violent drug and property offenders.
I predicted that due to the continued linking of the drug war to the war on terror that the US would soon declare Canadian pot a “biological weapon of mass destruction” and that pot smoking Canadians would be declared terrorists.
I explained that the American drug war is used to destabilize entire nations and has nothing really to do with drugs. The government couldn’t care less if you are high.
To illustrate this point I spoke about my visit to Colombia, South America and how the US has raped the land and spent $98 million to send US soldiers to guard an oil pipeline owned by a private US company. The US justifies it’s involvement in Colombia’s conflict to the American people by claiming they are fighting narco-traffickers whose only desire is to get their children hooked on cocaine.
I warned my Canadian family that the US wants it’s airspace for our missile defense program and it’s natural resources for our greedy, spoiled citizens. But perhaps most importantly the US wants fresh-faced Canadian boys and girls to feed to the war machine.
Declaring Canada a nation filled with narco-terrorists whose only desire is to export biological weapons of mass destruction in the form of high quality pot to American children would be the easiest way to get the American people behind an imminent invasion.
I told them to be on the lookout for scapegoating and that I had already seen it taking place. Richard Cowan once said that one problem the US has is that Canada is too white to invade and too close to ignore. And he was correct.
In a lot of recent Canadian news stories about marijuana grow-ops and the black-market pot trade the blame is laid at the feet of the Hell’s Angels and Vietnamese gangs.
It’s easier to demonize them than it is to demonize white people. Most Americans would have no qualms about invading Canada on the pretense of ridding it of those two groups. Hell we’d think we were doing you a favor.
I stressed the importance of entering the political arena and running for office. I have found, as have most others, that you simply cannot trust those already in power to represent our interests. They aren’t going to change anything. They like it the way it is. Our only option in both the US and Canada is to be the change we wish to see and by that I mean form a voting block, run candidates from within and TAKE some power from these war-mongering fools. There is no other way.
I spoke about a few other things related to what Canada will be like if the US gets its way.
I hope I painted a clear picture and that my points were well taken. Judging from the response I got I would say that they were.
After another panel discussion and raffle it was time to march down to Queen Victoria Park for our 4:20 celebration and protest. Alison Myrden, was our mistress of ceremonies for the parade so she set out toward Clifton Hill and everyone fell into place behind.
We were provided a police escort but were not harassed by the police. In the US organizers are often required to pay for police attendance at events. If they are unable to do so then they are denied their first amendment right to peacefully assemble.
Clifton Hill is the main tourist drag in Niagara Falls and it was packed this particular afternoon. Horns were honked in support of our cause and people cheered and voiced their agreement that marijuana should be legal.
I am quite certain we gained a large number of people on our way down Clifton Hill to the park, as the crowd was much larger at the bottom than at the top.
The organizers and speakers climbed a grassy knoll and once again some of us addressed the crowd and thanked them for coming out today. At 4:20 a cloud of smoke larger than the mist coming off the falls rose high over The Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls, Canada and everyone went their separate ways in a happy daze.
Behind the Iron Curtain
After a lovely weekend of being treated like royalty and enjoying REAL freedom in Canada it is time to return to America.
I have never had any real problems at any American entry point. They ask me the usual questions and sometimes they search my bags. Usually I tell them where I was and why I was there and where I am going and they let me through without too much hassle. But today was different.
The original cab driver that took me over the border had arranged for someone else to take me back and he told me that as long as I left by 5:15 a.m. I would be ok.
I met the cab at the pre-arranged location and we set out for the border.
The driver asked me if I thought I would have problems and I told him it was possible but that I usually only had problems crossing into other countries and not back into the US. I am way more afraid that I will one day be denied exit from the US than I am of being denied entry.
It was brutally early in the morning. In the last 72 hours I had probably managed to sleep 4 good hours. My vocal cords were totally raw. My ears hurt from flying and those two cookies I had for breakfast and the refreshment my hostess provided on the way to meet the cab had kicked in full force. My eyelids felt like they were made out of lead. I hadn’t had any coffee.
I was in no mood or shape really to deal with what I was about to have to deal with.
When we arrive at customs and I roll down my window and a young, jittery, soldier dressed in a black uniform, complete with jackboots, (hereafter to be referred to as G.I. Jackboot,) steps out and takes my passport.
He had that “special forces” look about him and I instantly knew this was going to be a long morning.
“Where were you here?” he asks me
(Ok I know I am tired…but that question didn’t make any sense.)
“What do you mean where was I here?”
“Where were you here?”
(I am now convinced that Customs Agents deliberately screw up the wording in their questions to confuse you…thereby giving them “probable cause” to basically rape you upon re-entering the US.)
“Do you mean what part of Canada did I visit?”
“Yes. I also spent one night in London and one night in St. Catherine’s.”
What were you doing in London and St. Catherine’s?”
“Why were you sleeping in those two towns?”
I could have been a total smart ass at this point but decided to cooperate because I still sensed a very slim chance to escape unmolested so I said,
“Some people that I wanted to meet live in London and so I traveled there to meet with them and stay the night. I stayed in St. Catherine’s at a bed and breakfast because it is closer to the border and I have an early flight.”
“What were you doing here?”
“Visiting friends and attending a conference.”
“What kind of conference?”
“An international forum on drug policy. My name is Loretta Nall and I am President of the US Marijuana Party and Libertarian candidate for Governor of Alabama in 2006. If you scan my passport you will see that I travel a great deal into and out of Canada.
G.I. Jackboot flips through my passport and asks me
“What were you doing in Colombia?”
I almost responded…”None of your fucking business.” I could feel my blood pressure rising and I was ever more grateful for those cookies.
“I was traveling with a human rights group from Washington DC.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I am a full time drug policy reform advocate. I am head of the US Marijuana Party and I am a candidate for Governor of Alabama in the 2006 election. I am a politician so I travel a great deal to speak at various venues. I also write for a magazine and online publications such as Lew Rockwell and I host an AM Radio talk show in Montgomery, Alabama.”
G.I. Jackboot steps inside the guard shack and scans my passport. There is a female agent in there that we will call “G.I. Robot” and after a moment of intense silence G.I. Jackboot comes out of the cubicle and looks at me like I am the biggest threat he has ever faced in his short career as a border guard and to my utter despair I hear G.I. Robot say
“Well you know what we gotta do.”
Damn. Damn. Damn.
My stomach knots up and rolls over. This could get ugly.
I look over at G.I. Robot, smile and ask her “What comes up on your computer screen when you scan my passport?” “Are you able to at least tell me that it confirms that everything I have told you is true?”
G.I. Robot turns her head very slowly towards me, you could almost hear the mechanical gears grinding away, and a very blank stare, almost frighteningly blank, comes over her face. In a monotone, robotic voice she says,
“No, I can’t tell you anything.”
I involuntarily shiver.
God that was creepy.
What border am I crossing again?
G.I. Jackboot comes out again and orders my cab driver to
“Proceed to the platform and for me to enter Cubicle 2.
Noooooo. Not Cubicle 2.
US customs is about to rape me.
Inside cold, gray, dismal, Cubicle 2 was another female customs agent. I went inside and was instructed to sit down and wait.
I have noticed that when customs decides to hassle you there is often a lot of waiting involved. I am convinced that this is done in order to shake and rattle you. Piss you off and make you appear to be nervous or edgy so they can use it as justification to search your body cavities.
I sat very still and pretended to be bored.
I have mastered that skill and thus far have avoided being raped by a latex-gloved, Special Forces American soldier.
I recommend mastering that technique to anyone traveling across any American border. It might save you stitches and your dignity.
Finally Jackboot and Robot returned and the three of them grouped together and had a discussion.
The new one approached and asked me to fill out a re-entry form for the US.
G.I. Jackboot and G.I. Robot disappeared into the back room as I finished filling out the form.
In the space designated for me to declare how much any items I was bringing back were worth there were numbers already printed by a computer.
I scratched them out and wrote $0.
The third customs agent, who I will refrain from nicknaming because she was decent, looked at the form and commented on the weird numbers printed in the $ space.
She took the form, told me to sit down and walked away.
A few minutes later she and G.I. Robot came back out and told me that since there were weird numbers printed on the customs declaration form that I had to fill out another one.
When that was done the female agents disappeared with both forms.
G.I. Robot reappears with the first declaration form and instructs me to empty my pockets on the counter.
I placed my passport and some folded papers, which included my flight itinerary, my Canadian immigration paperwork which states that I have been arrested and convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana, my drivers license, credit card, cigarettes and lighter.
“Have you ever been arrested before?”
“For exercising my first amendment right to free speech and petitioning my government for a redress of grievances.”
“What were you charged with?”
“Misdemeanor possession of marijuana.”
“Were you convicted?”
“How much did you pay in fines?”
“I haven’t paid anything in fines because I appealed the convictions. My jury trial is coming up this week.”
“Have you had any run ins with law enforcement since then?”
“Well only if you count the times Customs has given me a hard time. But no, I have not been arrested again. Don’t you have all of this information in about me in your computer?”
G.I. Robot proceeds to ask me the same questions about where I work and what I do for a living. And I proceed to give her the same answers I gave earlier. She writes them down on the first declaration form.
She then asks me,
“Do you have any websites?”
“What are they?”
www.usmjparty.com and http://usmjparty.blogspot.com
“You know what?” I said to her…”Google me.” “You’ll find a few thousand pages related to who I am and the work I do.”
“A few thousand?”
“Yes. A few thousand. All you ever wanted to know.”
G.I. Jackboot appears from the back and says,
“So you crossed in at a different point when you went into Canada?”
“I flew into Buffalo and went across by taxi.”
“Why didn’t your friend from London pick you up and bring you back to the airport?”
(At this point I lost all my patience with this nonsense. My flight leaves at 6:49 a.m. and it is fast approaching 6:15 and the airport is still a good fifteen minutes away and they haven’t even searched my bags yet.)
“Because my friend wanted to avoid the anal probe I suppose. You must admit that border crossing isn’t much fun these days.”
“What is your friends name and address in London?”
:”I am not going to tell you my friends name and address in London. My friend is a Canadian citizen and therefore has nothing to do with me getting back across the US border.”
“Where is your luggage?”
“In the trunk of the cab.”
G.I. Jackboot tells the cabbie to go and pull the car into the garage bay. Jackboot waits for the cabbie to open the trunk and then removes my bags.
In my extensive travels and dealings with customs I have learned to pack as light as I possibly can. This cuts down on the time they take to search your belongings. I only had my backpack and one small suitcase.
G.I. Jackboot places my bags on the metal table and he and G.I. Robot proceed to paw through them.
In my clothing bag I had my US Marijuana Party shirt, my “Nall for Governor” shirt and a couple of pot related shirts I had been given at the conference in Canada. G.I. Robot unfolded all of them and had a good long gander.
While she was gawking at my shirts G.I. Jackboot opens my fanny pack and discovers my US Marijuana Party business cards. And with what appeared to be a genuine expression of awe he looks over at G.I. Robot and exclaims in a heavy New York accent, “She even has real business cods” to which Robot replies “And she’s got T-shirts too.”
They both turn around and stare at me.
Jackboot says, “So you’re serious about the governor thing?”
I got so exasperated that I was not sure whether to laugh, cry or scream like a maniac.
“Do people often come through Customs and tell you they are head of a political organization that is dedicated to changing drug laws in the US and that they are running for governor of their respective state? Is that a generic, inconspicuous, low-key story that has become popular at the border?
Yes. I am serious.
I have been completely honest with you about who I am and what I do. Having to spend hours in these interrogation rooms being asked the same questions over and over, having my belongings rifled through and wondering whether or not this will end in a body cavity search is not my idea of a fun day.”
That earned me a very mean look from both G.I.’s but at this point I no longer gave a shit. I knew I had nothing on me and that I had already missed my flight so I had nothing but time to lose.
Apparently I had left an old ticket stub in one of my bags from a previous flight to DC. G.I. Robot discovers it and asks me “So, when were you in Washington D.C.?”
I ponder what this question could have to do with me getting back across the border but can’t make a connection.
“I was in D.C. in January. I travel there often.”
G.I. Robot finishes her search of my bag and proceeds to get into the back of the taxi with a wand device. She digs around in the seats, in the floorboard, in the ashtrays…then she moves to the trunk of the car with her wand and then to the front. Satisfied that I haven’t corrupted the cabbie with a large amount of drug money in exchange for letting me smuggle Canadian bubble hash back into the US disguised as part of his cab she ends her search for the elusive terrorist weed.
Meanwhile, G.I. Jackboot has discovered my digital camera and decides to have a look at my photographs. He flips through all of them making me wish I had something vulgar and offensive on there just to shock him. Alas, it was only pictures of the conference.
He puts the camera back into my bag.
Then he removes my laptop computer.
I have taken my computer through customs many times and I have never had it seized. But I’ll be damned if G.I. Jackboot didn’t walk into another room with my computer. I couldn’t see what he was doing. I suppose it is possible that US Customs now has a copy of my hard drive. All of my stuff is password protected so perhaps that kept him from accessing anything other than the logon screen. Or perhaps there is now a bug in it that sends them a copy of everything I do.
I am more pissed about the computer being violated than anything else. I was honest with them and told them everything. I cooperated with them until it became apparent that no matter what I did they were going to give me a hard time and make me miss my flight. Nothing illegal had been found in my possession. All of my documents were in order. I should have been allowed to leave at that point without further intrusion into my privacy.
I do not believe that they had the right to take my personal computer out of my sight for one second. I think being a declared political candidate grants me more protection than the private citizen in that regard.
If they thought that my computer contained explosives or some other such hazard then they would have scanned it as I doubt G.I. Jackboot was trained in disarming potential explosives hidden in laptop computers. I am not even sure such a thing exists.
If they wanted to look inside it for pot then they should have opened it in front of me as has been done on a couple of occasions before.
But they took it out of my sight. There was no other reason to do so than to tamper with it. Turn it on and have a look.
G.I. Jackboot was gone for about 15 minutes with my machine. He returned it to my bag and I was told to have a nice flight.
“I have already missed my flight as I am sure you are aware. Do you know what I am supposed to do now? I have never been delayed long enough to miss a flight before.”
“Talk to the airline.”
I turn and get into the taxi before I say or do something that gets me beaten like an Abu Ghraib detainee and landed in a secret cell in Guantanamo never to be heard from again.
As we ride away I think
“I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN AND I WILL NOT BE TREATED THIS WAY BY MY OWN COUNTRY.”
I’ve talked to an attorney about this matter and if it can be pursued in the court of law then y’all are about to see one hell of a battle between myself and the US government.
Despite all of the inconvenience it has caused me, I continue to be somewhat tickled that I, a harmless Alabama housewife, have been bestowed “red alert” status by the All Powerful United States Government simply for disagreeing with a current domestic policy.
It validates my work in a way that nothing else can.