Can Canadian Artists Who Invest In the Budding Cannabis Market Still Tour the United States?

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On Oct. 17, Bill C-45, also known as The Cannabis Act, goes into effect in Canada, legalizing recreational cannabis nationwide for individuals 18 and over and creating huge investment opportunities.

But Canadian artists who want to cash in face a conundrum: investing in pot -- or even smoking it -- could put their touring business at risk.

"Previous consumption of cannabis or involvement in the cannabis industry may be grounds for denying entry into the U.S.," a Canadian government spokesman tells Billboard. U.S. border agents, meantime, have been ramping up searches of travelers' electronic devices such as smartphones and computers, which could contain evidence of marijuana use or investments.

"Do you want to look cool for your Instagram followers or play a gig for $30,000 in the U.S.?" a Canadian rapper says he recently asked his younger bandmate, advising him to erase all evidence of himself smoking blunts from his social media.

While the U.S. has many musicians including Willie Nelson, The Game, Melissa Etheridge, Snoop Dogg, Tyga, Wiz Khalifa, Gene Simmons, Ghostface Killah, B-Real and Master P openly investing in various cannabis businesses, from medical marijuana dispensaries to personal strains, very few Canadian acts have trumpeted their own pot projects.

One that has is the now-defunct rock band The Tragically Hip, long one of Canada's biggest acts, whose frontman Gord Downie passed away Oct. 17 2017, exactly a year before the bill takes effect. The band owns a stake in pot producer Newstrike Brands Ltd. -- owner of Up Cannabis -- and this summer the Hip's surviving members held several invite-only events at their lakeshore Bathhouse Recording Studio and on a farm, where they ran through the potencies and effects of several of their own marijuana strains, each named after one of their songs.

But Jeff Craib, The Tragically Hip's long-time agent and a member of the advisory board of Newstrike, cautions actively touring bands about following suit.

"It's already difficult for our bands to cross the border and it's really costly, and that could be another thing that gets used to screen out bands from going across," says Craib. "When they ask you, ‘Have you ever smoked pot? Are you involved?' You say ‘No,' because they can do whatever they want, because federally in the U.S. it's illegal. It doesn't matter what is going on here, to them. The best advice is to not dig in deep. Even if you're a big proponent of it, if you actually say you are, you're crazy. That's what we're telling the staff and the staff are telling their clients that. That's common sense."

Craib adds that volunteering information about one's marijuana investments to a border agent would be "like wearing a pot shirt at the border."

Canadian immigration counsel Drew Thorpe at Robert Geurts Law Office -- a former frontman for Bootsauce -- warns that "if you invest, if you admit to smoking, if you've got snapshots of a 420 event on your social media, all these things are going to lead to further questions," Thorpe says. "Do you need to do business in the United States of America? That is the question. And for most musicians, the answer would be yes."

Carly B. Wiskoff, attorney-at-law, at Wiskoff Law in New York, handles entertainment visas for musicians, and advises Canadian acts to stick to more traditional investments and "pretend this [legalization in Canada] never happened."

"If you're an investor, then are you a drug trafficker? That is the argument that border agents are going to make," Wiskoff says.

Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) executive director Liana White, which helps with contracts, visas, criminal waivers, and advice for touring musicians, says there is no line or section in the current paperwork that asks for cannabis history, except for generic criminal charges. But White recently talked with her own board and her counterparts at the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to explore ways that musicians don't have to hide their new legal usage or investments, and can still carry on with their careers in the U.S. market.

"I will see what I can do in the way of speaking to Canadian government officials who may have some impact on their U.S. counterparts," White says. In the meantime, she cautions: "No sparking fatties on the internet," she laughs. "If that is something that you do, you need to keep it completely private, off of social media, even commentary and news articles, especially if you're travelling into the United States in the next couple of weeks."


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