U.S. government sued by Seattle law firm over cannabis industry border bans

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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A law firm in Washington State is hoping to get “immediate” access to important records that explain why certain foreign nationals, especially Canadians, are being turned away at the border because of their cannabis industry involvement.

The U.S. government is being sued by Seattle-based Davis Wright Tremaine. A lawsuit was officially filed against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on March 6 in federal District Court for Washington’s Western District.

Clients represented by the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm include numerous medical and recreational cannabis businesses. Based on the details of the lawsuit, Davis Wright Tremaine wants access to information that proves the following:

  • If the CBP’s actions are within the scope of authority permitted by Congress.
  • Whether the agency is acting based on specific policies or procedures.
  • If CBP’s policies and procedures were implemented in accordance with the procedures, rules, and norms laid out by Congress.

A statement from the law firm claimed that the CBP will not create documents as a response to U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This restricts the firm’s capacity to represent clients. According to a CBP official, “working or having involvement in the legal [cannabis] industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or in Canada” could result in an individual being turned away at the border.

Numerous Canadian cannabis business professionals have been banned from entering the U.S. for life, mainly due to their association with the legal weed sector. Canadian cannabis entrepreneurs who wish to cross the U.S. border weren’t exactly relieved after a CBP statement was issued on Oct. 9, 2018, either.

“If a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reasons related to the [cannabis] industry, they may be deemed inadmissible,” read the statement.

Freedom of Information Act requests

According to details of the lawsuit, the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm submitted FOIA requests to CBP’s main office and CBP’s Seattle field office in September of last year.The law firm asserts that the the FOIA requests have not been answered by the CBP, nor have any other federal agencies responded.

Davis Wright Tremaine’s main office lawsuit requested the following:

“All records relating to CBP’s policies or practices of finding foreign nationals – or “aliens,” as that term is used in the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212 – inadmissible for entry to the United States based on their involvement in foreign cannabis businesses which operate lawfully under the local domestic law of the jurisdiction in which they operate … .”

The FOIA submission also demanded the following:

“All records relating to CBP’s policies or practices referred to by Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, in the September 13, 2018 Politico.com article U.S. OFFICIAL: CANADIAN MARIJUANA USERS, WORKERS AND INVESTORS RISK LIFETIME BORDER BAN, including the following statements: “If you work for the (Canadian cannabis) industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility;” and “Facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect an individual’s admissibility to the U.S. … .”

A successful case for the law firm would result in the court concluding that the CBP violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to the FOIA requests in a timely manner.

Davis Wright Tremaine also sought the following from the court:

  • Demand that CBP discloses the requested records immediately.
  • Compensate the law firm for all costs and attorney’s fees incurred.
  • Allow additional relief to the extent that the court deems reasonable.

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