On June 19, Canada passed Bill C-45, or the Cannabis Act, which nationally legalized the recreational sale of cannabis. With the launch date of October 17 quickly approaching, everyone is getting ready for this unprecedented Canadian legislation. If you plan on traveling across the border, you should know what you can, and more importantly, what you CAN'T do with cannabis. Keep this in mind - whatever side of the border you get your cannabis from, it either needs to stay or be finished on that side.
Canada and the US have long had a strong relationship, allied by land and love. The legalization of marijuana doesn’t threaten this bond entirely, but it makes it more complicated. The American side of the border is governed by the US Federal Government. This means that Federal Law applies, rendering marijuana illegal. Even in Washington, a recreationally legal state that sits mere miles from Canada, pot can’t be transported back and forth: in between Washington and Canada lies the marijuana militarized zone. In short: no drugs allowed.
Banning the Bud
If Canadians are caught with marijuana on their person (or in their car), they could be arrested for drug smuggling. The same goes for US citizens who are caught trying to transport cannabis across the border. It’s harsh and rare, but bringing drugs across nation lines comes with risk.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the man behind this (not surprisingly). A politician who has made his feelings for marijuana crystal clear (he despises it), Sessions is upping the ante of federal enforcement and making sure US border agents stick to their law (and not the law of Canada or certain US states).
The people most affected by this are those who live in border states and cities within eyesight of Canada. These people don’t just travel north for vacation or business, they literally pop over the border for lunch or a dinner at a new restaurant. This ups the odds that they’ll unwittingly have marijuana in their possession when they cross.
A Warm Welcome
Canada, for their part, isn’t deterred by the Federal Law of America; they’re not deterred by the Federal Law of anyone as they become only the second country in the world to legalize marijuana recreationally (and the first G7 country.) In fact, they expect an influx of tourists from the states: while they’re in Canada, they are free to eat, drink and consume cannabis. But Americans should only purchase what they can consume during the duration of their trip. What happens in Canada has to stay in Canada.
A statement issued by US Customs and Border Protections warns anyone trying to press their luck, saying,
“Crossing the border with marijuana is prohibited and could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension. CBP is always concerned about criminal activity at our US borders. CBP officers are the nation’s first line of defense, including prevention of illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. US Federal Law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP officers will continue to enforce that law.”
The welcome of Canadians into America is not so warm: customs agents routinely ask our northern neighbors if they’ve ever used marijuana. If they say yes or refuse to answer, they can be banned for life. Even Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, has admitted to past marijuana use, making him eligible for a lifetime ban when he returns to private citizen status.
There are no plans to remove this question once Canada legalizes, leaving people with the choice to lie or face banishment. Those who are involved in the Canadian cannabis industry – they own a dispensary, for example – may also be banned. Bans can be lifted, but the process is timely and costly.
The situation is so serious that Canada’s Government has issued a warning to travelers on their website, saying:
“Although the possession of cannabis is legal in some US states, it remains illegal under US Federal Laws in any form and quantity, making it illegal to bring across the Canada-US border. Previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by US Federal Laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the US. Involvement in the legal cannabis industry in Canada could also result in your being denied entry. Even after cannabis is legalized in Canada, do not attempt to cross the Canada-US border with any amount of cannabis in any form, even if you are traveling to a US state that has legalized possession of cannabis. If you do so you can expect legal prosecution and fines, and possibly jail time.”
It's worth noting that some customs agents threaten action they’re not legally allowed to take. They tell Canadians to tell the truth about marijuana use or they’ll be drug tested, face a lie detector test, or arrested (all things they can’t actually do).
For US citizens entering Canada, there is no marijuana interrogation. You still can’t carry it on you, but you won’t be barred because you use marijuana for glaucoma or because you tried it in your college dorm fifty years ago.
Change Coming Down the Pot Pike
To many, including some politicians, the above seems like a giant waste of time and a great way to alienate our allies. It’s worrisome enough that members of Congress have raised concerns, sending a letter to Jeff Sessions and urging the development of policies that are more flexible. The concerns are especially focused on the overreaching ramifications for visitors and those new to the US who may not be aware that cannabis is legal in the US, but only in certain parts of it.
We must wait and see how everything plays out once Canada officially legalizes. Maybe the US will relax its laws or maybe we’ll have to foster patience until we have a new administration, one that doesn’t view cannabis as the enemy.