The immigration laws in the U.S. prohibit a lot of people from entering.
Terrorists, child traffickers, practicing polygamists, anyone engaged in prostitution, anyone with a communicable disease, drug addicts – all are expressly prohibited.
But as cannabis moves to becoming legal in the entire country of Canada on October 17, the U.S. immigration laws are coming under increasingly bright scrutiny. And it’s not a good sight.
What can get a Canadian cannabis enthusiast, tourist or businessman trying to come into the U.S. at the border banned for life? Turns out it’s quite an extensive list.
If you admit to having consumed cannabis in the past, you could be banned from the U.S. for life. If you decide to work with a legal Canadian cannabis business, you could be banned from the U.S. and detained for association with drug trafficking.
In fact, you can even be banned because you are simply related to someone who committed a drug offense, since you will be considered a beneficiary of drug trafficking.
When anyone goes through pre-clearance screening at the U.S./Canada border, they can be compelled to answer questions about previous cannabis usage, then be banned for life based on their answer. If they refuse to answer questions in the preclearance area, they could face up to two years in prison for “obstructing” a preclearance officer.
Wow. Talk about harshing the gig for Canadians, most of whom know nothing about these laws and can easily be tricked by customs officials into answering questions that they think are no big deal. “Sure, I consume cannabis. It’s legal here.” “Really? Step over here please.”
What’s worse is that any Canadian citizen can be banned without even attempting to cross the border. If you publicly state on television or social media that you have used cannabis, you could be banned for life from entering the U.S.
Canadian Olympic gold medalist, snow boarder Ross Rebagliati, found that out the hard way in 1998. After returning home, he learned that he was banned for life from entering the U.S. When asked why he had been banned, Rebagliati learned it was because he had admitted smoking cannabis on the “Jay Leno Show.”
So this seemingly crazy problem on the border with a country where both medical and adult cannabis are legalized as of October 17 is being worked out, right? Nope.
In fact, the U.S. added a new condition. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, even attempting to cross the border with a valid medical marijuana prescription is prohibited, and could potentially result in fines, apprehension or both.
The Canadians have tried to encourage a dialogue on the issue. In testimony in Canada about the country’s legalization bill, Kevin Thompson, director general of the North American Strategy Bureau at Global Affairs Canada, was less than assuring: “What I can say at this point is that we’re working closely . . . with various actors within the U.S. administration to identify some of the risk areas and some of the scenarios that may arise when this legislation is implemented. So we have a robust dialogue among a variety of departments and organizations within the U.S. government. This is certainly one of the issues that has been raised, and . . . at this point the administration has not indicated that they are going to fundamentally change their approach to dealing with these issues at the border.”
The reality is that over 4,800 cars every day cross at the Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia, between Seattle and Vancouver. It is the third busiest in all of Canada. These are people who rely on being able to cross into the U.S. for almost everything. It is their means of visiting friends and family, or finding places to go shopping and eat.
“If some British Columbians are banned from the United States, they will have to completely change their lifestyles,” Canadian Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffere said during hearings about passing the adult use law on June 7 (it passed on June 20). “For many British Columbians, being barred from the U.S. would be devastating.”
Will that change after October 17th? Not according to Todd Owen, a senior official with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection that oversees border operations.
In an article in Politico, he said that border agents would still seek to permanently ban any foreign visitor who admits to working or investing in the cannabis industry, or admits consuming cannabis, even after adult use cannabis becomes legal in Canada.
“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,” Owen told Politico. “If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban.”
Canadian Senator Claude Carignan said that Canadian lawmakers are now guessing at how American customs and border protection officers will react to country-wide legalization. “There could be dramatic consequences,” he said. “There is no guarantee that the Americans will accept Canadian positions.”