Part of cannabis laws and regulations
Obviously, I can’t bring weed into the States in my car once it’s legal here, but can they still ban me if I use it once it’s legal here? – Jake, Toronto
If you have high hopes of getting into the States, you could be in trouble. But if you’re not stoned – and don’t look like a stoner – it might be okay to mellow out.
“If you’re in a camper van that reeks of weed and your eyes are bloodshot, they’ll start asking questions,” said Mark Belanger, a Vancouver immigration lawyer. “Or if you’re in a tie-dyed shirt and you’re going to a Dave Matthews concert, they might ask – but they’ve said they won’t be randomly asking people if they’ve used pot.”
Still, things get a little hazy when trying to understand exactly what Canadians will face at the border once pot is legal in Canada.
Before legalization, travellers could face a lifetime ban from the United States if they admitted to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer they’d ever used marijuana, even if never been charged with a drug-related crime.
Once banned, you could apply for a US$585 waiver that could get you in – but you would have to get it renewed, and pay again, as often as every year.
“There’s no appeal for this, you can’t go to court,” Belanger said. “If you get yourself in trouble, you’re banned.”
Belanger expects that to continue – and increase – after weed becomes legal. The policy isn’t changing.
If you are a drug addict, have been convicted of a drug offence or admit to illegal drug use, you can’t get into the United States – or at least, not without a waiver.
Weeding out tokers?
Tim Golden, U.S. practice director for Toronto immigration-law firm Green and Spiegel, expects border officers to ultimately change tactics once weed is legal in Canada.
“If you’ve had any sort of conviction prior to Oct. 17 or you admit prior to Oct. 17 that you used, you’ll still be inadmissible to the U.S.,” Golden said. “But it’s … legal in Canada – so if you’re asked, you could say, ‘It’s not a crime in Canada and therefore you can’t render me inadmissible.’”
Even if an officer buys your argument, you could still be banned. They’ve got a lot of discretion, Golden said.
“They’re the law – they can shift it around,” Golden said. “We think they could say that you are inadmissible because you have a drug dependency.”
That would mean you’d have to return home and visit a CBP panel doctor – who could refer you to other doctors. You’d have to pay for all the visits. If it’s determined that don’t have a substance-abuse problem, you could reapply to enter.
Canadian cannabis workers won’t face a ban as long as they’re not entering on weed-related business,
But you could still get banned if you admit you’ll be using marijuana while in the United States, even in states where it’s legal. That’s because it’s still illegal federally there.
If you are asked if you’ve used, don’t lie – that would be fraud and the grounds for a ban, Belanger said.
“You could say you’re not comfortable with the question and ask to go home,” Belanger said. “There’d be a flag on your file – but that’s where a guy like me comes in.”
If you’ve forgotten a joint in your car and they catch it, you would be banned for life. You could also face prosecution or a fine of US$5,000.
“Reasonable suspicion is the standard, so if the dogs indicate they smell something, [officers] would search the car,” Golden said.
The best advice? “Don’t give them a reason to have to ask the question,” Belanger said. And scrub your Instagram feed of all those shots of you vaping legal weed.
“Our 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,” Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations for CBP, told Politico last month.
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