This wasn’t my initial descent, and wasn’t even a descent, but instead a land crossing. I had been to Vancouver several times prior to this visit, but I had to share this experience, as it was my first time to encounter any trouble whatsoever with Canadian border authorities.
Driving from Seattle (which can often be the cheapest way of getting to and around in Vancouver if you’re counting), I usually cross the border at Peace Arch along US Interstate 5. Today, however, I listened to the wait times, and heard that it was backed up. So I tried the alternate crossing along State Route 543, just a few miles from Peach Arch. While I’m often heading into Vancouver solo, this time I had company in the form of my friend and snowboarding buddy, Shaun.
The line of cars wasn’t long, but when we got to the front, we were asked to pull aside and step out of the car. For a moment I thought it may have been a race thing, given Shaun’s long, dangling dreadlocks and the dearth of black people in this part of the world. But then I considered how truly diverse Vancouver is (for races other than black—though this is changing), and figured that couldn’t be the case. We were taken into a waiting room, and left for what felt like hours without being given any information. Then Shaun was called into a back room, taken for questioning, only to come out 15 minutes later with a clearance for us to proceed along our way.
Wondering what the hell had just happened during a routine border crossing I had made countless times before, Shaun explained that about 6 years ago, he had a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge on his record in the U.S. That basically means he was found carrying marijuana without any intent to distribute, and only in a quantity that one person could use. And it was 6 years ago!! Further, he was issued a warning that if something like that happened again, he wouldn’t be allowed to return.
Apparently, this was enough to trip Canada’s border authorities, which I found incredibly hypocritical given the fact that individual marijuana possession is legal in the state we had just physically crossed over from (Washington), and given my awareness of Vancouver’s relaxed attitude towards the drug. While it is not technically legal, most Vancouverites I know engage in some healthy smoking from time to time, and there are even cafes that allow it in public. As long as there isn’t distribution involved or some widespread disturbance, law enforcement tends to bat a blind eye.
So regardless of what your transgression is, just be aware that you may have some issues crossing the border into Canada if this applies to you! And it may be completely shocking and surprising to you as well, all the more so once you understand how generally tolerant the average Canadian is!