For Canadians worried about getting banned from the United States because of a past or present relationship with cannabis, help is on the way.
Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week would allow Canadians working, investing or simply participating as consumers in the legal cannabis industry to enter the United States. Currently, agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection can deny entry to anyone – or even ban them for life – due to marijuana-related activity of any kind, as the substance remains banned at the U.S. federal level.
That rule applies regardless of whether the activity was legal in the jurisdiction where it occurred, which has already led to detainments, rejections and bans imposed on Canadians involved in the legal cannabis industry.
“What is legal in a foreign country, the American extrajudicial arm should not be stretching that far,” said Heather Segal, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer who works with clients in both Canada and the United States. “There is a lot of fear with respect to crossing the border.”
“People who work in the cannabis industry definitely are the most concerned, but people who have relationships in the cannabis industry, even if it is just providing services to them and it is not the main focus of their business, or people who have invested in the cannabis industry, I get concerns from them,” Ms. Segal said. “But I also get concerns from people who are just afraid of being stopped and asked if they smoked. I would say this is a concern that has crossed the minds of most Canadians when they are crossing the border or just thinking about going to the United States.”
Titled the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry Act, or MAPLE Act, the bill was introduced on Dec. 10 by Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon’s third district who helped form the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus last year. The bill would amend the U.S. Immigration and National Security Act to clarify the admissibility of people acting in accordance with local marijuana laws. It would prevent people from being deemed inadmissible for marijuana-related conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft of the legislation obtained by Cannabis Professional.
An official in Mr. Blumenauer’s office confirmed the title was a not-so-subtle reference to Canada, though it was intended to apply as well to visitors from Uruguay; being the only other country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis. The official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the legislation, said the MAPLE Act would likely advance under the new Congress in early 2019 but that it could take some time – possibly a year or more – to pass the House and Senate and be signed into law. That is too long for the issue to remain in limbo, Ms. Segal said.
“I have clients who are investing in the cannabis industry who are investing a billion dollars in the United States and hiring 10,000 U.S. workers,” she said. “These are not the sort of people they want to ban.”
Canadians who receive a lifetime ban from entering the United States can apply for a waiver, but the process can take up to a year to complete, cost as much as US$1,000, and would need to be repeated every five years.
“It is absolutely a bureaucratic nightmare, it is adjudicated in Virginia in a small office… and the Americans do not have the resources to issue waivers to all the Canadians entering the United States,” Ms. Segal said. “And they wouldn’t want to.”
In October, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a policy memo meant to clarify the rules around whether cannabis law-abiding Canadians could enter the United States, but Ms. Segal argues that attempt failed to end the confusion as it “continued to give a lot of discretion to individual border guards.”
“These poor guys are left with this really hard decision,” Ms. Segal said, referring to U.S. border officials, “it is a hard decision and they have to make it with very little guidance.”