Legal Pot: problems Canadian tokers could face at US border

Lying to a border agent about past drug use constitutes fraud and could result in a lifetime ban from travelling to the United States.


While pot legalization is set to take effect across the country on October 17, Canadians might want to think twice about smoking up if they plan to travel to the United States.

Though several American states have either legalized recreational cannabis or have in place a legal framework for medical use, the prohibition on marijuana remains in place according to US federal law.

And that means that border agents will continue to turn away would-be border crossers from Canada in violation of the federal statute.

Marijuana is a banned substance according to US federal law, and those who participate in the industry are treated as drug traffickers by border agents.  These people are therefore inadmissible to the United States, even if they are attempting to cross into a state like Washington, where recreational pot was legalized in 2014.

Who should be concerned?

Todd Owen, a senior official with the US Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) told Politico that, “officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there — or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask.”

He adds that lying to a border agent about past drug use constitutes fraud and could result in a lifetime ban from travelling to the United States.

This puts the millions of Canadian marijuana users in a difficult position since admitting to past drug use results in immediate inadmissibility.

After having been turned away at the border, Canadians have the option to apply for a waiver from a lifetime ban. However these waivers, this cost $585 USD, take several months to process and are issued at the discretion of the CBP.

Beyond simple possession and admission of marijuana use to border agents, any involvement in the legal cannabis industry in Canada, whether as an employee or investor also disqualifies Canadians from being allowed to enter the US.

These policies could cause logistical nightmares for Canadians who work in the US or travel frequently for business, such as those holding a NEXUS border pass. The CBP has been advising Canadian truckers that use of marijuana will result in their NEXUS privileges being revoked.

New Legal Patchwork

The federal legalization of cannabis taking effect in October means that Canadians will need to familiarize themselves with a patchwork of provincial and municipal laws regarding the use, sale and cultivation of the plant and its derivative products.

Provinces are still announcing their plans for legal pot.  For example, Ontario, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Saskatchewan will allow private storefront sales, while other provinces have announced a government monopolized distribution system.

Most provinces will allow up to four plants to be grown at home.  Both Quebec and Manitoba remain committed towards banning home growing. Manitoba announced this week that home gardeners found growing cannabis will face a fine of $2,542.

The new federal law and provincial frameworks take effect on October 17.


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Dean Tea

Dean Tea is a curiosity-driven writer and editor based in Gatineau, Quebec. He has stood as a candidate both provincially and federally and currently sits on the board of the Libertarian Party of Canada. A bilingual student of linguistics, he will receive his Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University in December 2018.

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