U.S. Customs Banning Canadians At The Border Over Cannabis

Cars line up for United States border

Increasing amounts of people working in Canada’s legal cannabis industry are becoming more concerned every day about the possibility of a lifetime ban to the US…just for working in weed. Even those with connections to cannabis in Canada who’ve never consumed it could be banned from America for life. The prospect of being banned from the US at the US/Canada border isn’t only reserved for individuals who work in legal cannabis. Anyone who admits to a border patrol agent that they’ve used cannabis in the past risks being prohibited from ever again stepping foot on American soil.

Customs is banning Canadians at the border

Working, Smoking, and Investing in Weed Could Get Canadians Banned from the US for Life

According to Washington immigration lawyer Len Saunders, “It’s basically black and white. If you admit to a US border officer at a US port of entry that you’ve smoked marijuana in the past, whether it’s in Canada or the US, you will be barred entry for life to the United States.”

Saunders’ advice? Don’t answer if a border patrol agent asks if you’ve ever smoked pot.

“As a Canadian citizen at a US point of entry, you have the right not to answer that question,” he says.

It’s not just people working in or admitting to smoking cannabis that face this lifetime ban. Even those who have invested in cannabis are at risk.

The U.S. Stands Firm on Federal Cannabis Policy

In early September, a senior official overseeing US border operations told Politico, that the US Customs and Border Protection agency will stand firm on the long-standing federal laws concerning cannabis.

Todd Owens, the executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, said that the CBP will treat those who participate in the cannabis industry as drug traffickers.

U.S. passport and money

“We don’t recognize that as a legal business,” said Owens.

While Owens maintains that every Canadian passing through to the US won’t be questioned about their marijuana use, there are certain elements that could lead them to question said travelers.

“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,” Owens remarked.

He also mentioned that residue, that can stick around for weeks inside a car might be detected by CBP inspection dogs which could lead to further questioning. Owens also says that if Canadians are questioned about past cannabis use, that they shouldn’t lie.

“If you lie about it,” said Owens, “that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban.”

Banned for Life at the Border

Once a person has been banned for life, they must attain a legal waiver from an immigration lawyer that’s accepted for 1-5 years, for the rest of their life. The application, which requires a hefty amount of paperwork (which could include verification of your criminal record and fingerprints) costs $585US and can take up to a year to process.

Saunders says that he gets requests from Canadians looking for waivers for inadmissibility due to cannabis at least 1-2 times a week. 15 years ago, however, he was only seeing 1-2 requests a year.

Man advocating for cannabis in canada

In April, CEO of Kerton Inc., an agricultural equipment manufacturer, Jay Evans tried crossing into the US with two of his employees. Both were engineers with zero criminal record and Nexus passes. They were traveling to meet with a US-based company to start designing a machine that would make labor costs more efficient for cannabis producers.

According to Evans, “We had not yet designed the product, we had not yet marketed the product, and we’d not yet sold the product.”

When they were questioned by CBP agents, one of the men mentioned that the design they were considering would ultimately be used in the Canadian cannabis industry. They were instantly taken into secondary questioning, where they were told after 6 hours that they were “drug-traffickers” in the eye of US law.

Evans and his two employees now have lifetime bans to the US. If they desire temporary entry into America, they will be required to attain the necessary waivers.

Canada is poised to legalize cannabis throughout the country come October. The cannabis industry in Canada is expected to boom, with $7 billion in sales projected for the first year alone. This means more jobs and a lot more people working in weed.

Saunders says, “My prediction is, come October 17th, it’s going to be a tidal wave of cases.”

Is Rising Paranoia from the US Government Regarding Legal Cannabis to Blame for Border Bans?

Both Saunders and Evans maintain that it’s not the fault of CBP officers. They’re just doing their job. Instead, they both think that the increase of people being banned at the border is due to rising fear in the US Justice Department about what legal weed in Canada might mean for the US.

Sanho Tree is the director of the Drug Policy Project in Washington DC and says he’s in agreement with the thoughts of Saunders’ and Evans’. According to Tree, this “new wave of intensity” of US/Canada border enforcement is likely just another indication of more and more “draconian” attitudes at the federal level regarding immigration and drugs under the Trump administration.

He says that CBP agents can even search the electronic devices of travelers’, download their content, and search social media looking for any indication that they may be directly or indirectly involved in cannabis.

Saunders also says he thinks that guards at the border are looking at websites of Canadian cannabis companies and making note of employees just in the event that one of them may try to cross over into the US.

He says, “People say to me, ‘What should I do?’ And I say, ‘Either get out of the business or stop traveling to the US.’”

Saunders maintains this “problem” isn’t just going to disappear. “It’s going to happen even more, and especially now that they’re going after business travelers, it’s going to be the Wild West at the border. It’s going to be crazy.”

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Jen Keehn
About Jen Keehn
Jen Keehn is a Colorado-based writer focused on inspiring others to live their best lives. She writes regularly about recreational and medical cannabis, holistic health, addiction, and psychedelic therapy.