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When marijuana is legal in Canada, Americans are expected to flock. But the border, and US law, stands in the way.

By Lornet Turnbull and Katie Zezima, The Washington Post

BLAINE, Wash. – Recreational marijuana has been legal here in Washington state since 2014. Adults just a few miles away in Canada also will be able to legally buy and smoke marijuana for pleasure starting in October.

But between them stands the U.S. border, a thin marijuana militarized zone, where the drug will remain forbidden by federal law.

Though marijuana will be legal for medical or recreational use in many places on either side of the roughly 6,000-mile border – including Alaska, Maine and Vermont – the U.S. government routinely bars Canadians who admit to having used the drug from entering the country. And U.S. citizens who try to cross back into the United States carrying marijuana bought legally in Canada to states where it is legal to have it could be arrested at the border crossings for possession – or drug smuggling – and face stiff fines or years in jail.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made clear that he is reopening the door to greater federal enforcement against marijuana, and that agents on the U.S. border will continue to enforce federal law.

“I think we’re going to have a rough year-and-a-half learning curve as far as the cross-border issues,” said Rino Bortolin, a city councilor in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit.

Few places will be as affected as Blaine, where Interstate 5 hits the Canadian border, and Windsor, where the Detroit skyline is visible across the Detroit River. Thousands cross the border each day at the two cities for work or other reasons – Windsor’s mayor said he often ducks over to Detroit for lunch at a favorite Thai restaurant, traversing one of the nation’s busiest crossings for trade.

Windsor has long been a party destination for young Americans because 19-year-olds can legally drink there, two years earlier than in the United States. The city is fully expecting tourists of all ages to come smoke marijuana, which is legal for medical purposes in Michigan; a question on the November ballot asks Michiganders whether to make it legal for adult recreational use.

At Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge in Windsor, where adults smoke medical marijuana while sitting on couches or bar stools and smoking devices including bongs are prominently displayed, co-owner Jon Liedtke has big plans to welcome American tourists.

“We definitely are not going to miss out on the opportunity,” he said. Liedtke sees Canada as on the vanguard, just the second country to nationally legalize recreational marijuana after Uruguay, which began legal sales in 2017. But he worries about U.S. law. “All of the Americans are going to be welcome. Getting back, though, is going to be an issue.”

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states and the District of Columbia, and 31 states allow medical marijuana in varying degrees. But the drug is prohibited under U.S. federal law and is classified as Schedule I, on par with heroin. Federal law is applicable at the U.S.-Canada border, meaning the possession, distribution, sale and production of marijuana is illegal there.