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North America

“We Don’t Care What’s Legal for You:” Canadian Pot Users to Be Turned Away at the Border

“We Don’t Care What’s Legal for You:” Canadian Pot Users to Be Turned Away at the Border
Jennifer Billock

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol essentially says, “We don’t care what’s legal for you,” thanks to rules and regulations surrounding the use of marijuana and travelers crossing the border from Canada who may work in the industry when the country legalizes retail marijuana sales starting on October 17.

Starting October 17, Canada will become the first major country to completely legalize retail sales of marijuana. Great for Canada! But it could spell trouble for any Canadian trying to get into the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol already has rules in place for what the States considers illegal drugs. If someone admits to using one – no matter how legal it is in their home country – they can be stopped from entering the U.S. Now, if that person lies about using the drug, they can be banned for life.

This poses a potential problem for pot smokers in Canada who wish to enter the U.S. via car.

“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, told Politico.

Dogs at the border could even sniff out past-use residue, which would lead to questioning.

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

As it stands, anyone admitting past use of an illegal substance (which includes pot) will be rejected for entry to the United States. Because it’s customary for border patrol agents to ask about employment, Owen tells Politico that people in the marijuana industry won’t be allowed in.

“If you work for the industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility,” he said.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (13)


  1. JimInOhio

    September 17, 2018 at 6:13 am

    “As it stands, anyone admitting past use of an illegal substance (which includes pot) will be rejected for entry to the United States.”

    This statement is WRONG or at least not consistent with the linked Politico article. Politico states that Section 212 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act provides for visa ineligibility and denied entry to a “drug abuser or addict”. That’s a far cry from admission of prior use. The real issue, as outlined by Politico, is loss of Nexus and/or Global Entry status for frequent border crossers.

  2. bobert24

    September 17, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Makes sense. This is simply being consistent with US policy on drugs that are illegal here. If you live in a country where there’s a legal cocaine, heroin, or any other drug industry, and work in that industry or use that product, this is what will happen to you too. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and the borders are controlled by federal officers.

    There’s no surprise here, but it is good that they’ve clarified this. It would have been bad if they just started banning people without reminding them of the law.

  3. HomerJ

    September 17, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Does this surprise anyone is the teminally backwards Excited States of America?

  4. minhaoxue

    September 17, 2018 at 11:39 am

    If a United States Citizen had one DUI, they would be denied entry into Canada.

  5. robsaw

    September 17, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    “If a United States Citizen had one DUI, they be denied entry into Canada.”

    Depends on the exact circumstances and the discretion available to the Border Officer but such an offense will generally be considered more seriously even if it was at a misdemeanor level in the USA.

  6. Dubai Stu

    September 18, 2018 at 6:28 am

    A number of points: (a) marijuana is now legal in Georgia (the country) and Uruguay. What is your definition of major country?; (b) a Canadian who admits to more than one use of marijuana for experimental purposes would face a health exclusion which could be overcome with an interview with a panel physician; (c) involvement in Canada’s legal marijuana industry is not grounds for exclusion, but investment in US marijuana operations (even if state licensed would be); (d) a Yank with one drunk driving committed before December 2018 regains his/her right to enter Canada after ten years. Canada has a liberal waiver policy and Canadian rehabilitation is life long. A Canadian who faces a criminality exclusion must continuously reapply for waivers. The first one is one year, the next one is usually five years as are the ones after that.

    After December 2018 we don’t know what Canada will do with drunk driving. They have increased the penalties for their own drunk drivings and this will change the way that Canada views foreign drunk drivings, but according to a 2017 Canadian Supreme Court ruling called Tran v Minister, admissibility is judge by how the offense was treated under the Canadian penal code at the time it was committed. There is a lot of talk in the Canadian Parliament about changing some of the rules on waivers and admissibility to change this. Right now, however, nothing is finalized.

    I do not support the US’s policies but there is also a lot of bad information out there.

  7. Boggie Dog

    September 18, 2018 at 9:15 am

    I’m not a user of marijuana but find this policy (possibility?) a bit unfair. If federal government is going to tolerate states doing their on thing then should people be blocked from leaving those states if they have used mj?

  8. CEB

    September 20, 2018 at 10:17 am

    The rule of law is what makes doing business in the USA stable, safe and predictable. Break the law and you pay the consequences. We can argue the substance and desirability of each law, which unfortunately tends to be very personal opinion based, but in the end the law is the law and just because you don’t like it does not mean you can flaunt it.

    I would also point out that the Feds do NOT simply tolerate states doing their own thing. That is why banks do not handle accounts for marijuana in states where it has been legalized. The Feds have made the decision to focus their resources on more egregious and serious issues, e.g. terrorism, cocaine and heroin, etc.

    There is always context to these sorts of issues and the sensationalism of titles and content from irresponsible bloggers simply exacerbates the divisiveness of such considerations. We need to remember that legitimate differences of opinion as well as the rule of law will always come into play.

  9. ChuckIT

    September 20, 2018 at 11:40 am

    If somebody in Canada uses mj, It is not “against the law” or “breaking the law.” Asking about “past use” would be absurd. If someone is stoned while driving into the country, it is a different issue. Similarly, it is not illegal to drink beer in some countries before you are 21. It is not “illegal” in the US to do so. A German citizen cannot be arrested in the US for legally drinking beer in Germany. Similarly, a Canadian cannot be arrested in the US for having ingested mj in Canada in the past, unless they are under the influence when they arrive in the country. If the restriction really prohibits the entry into the country of anybody who has used MJ in the past, it would lead to some interesting enforcement. We could close the door on a number of actors, Presidents, and Business men and etc.

  10. Freebird

    September 21, 2018 at 1:38 am

    Anyone catch the catch 22 here? ““If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,” Owen told Politico.”

    So, can’t get in if being honest about it (if a smoker/ enjoyer of space cakes) and can’t get in ever again if taking steps to hide the fact (and getting caught).

  11. skidooman

    January 14, 2019 at 6:46 am

    That is textbook definition of extra-territorial application of US law.

    I don’t smoke pot, I am not looking forward to pick up a joint, but the fact is that when you are in Canada you should be subject to Canadian laws, not US ones. And Canadian laws are clear: marijuana is legal, full stop.

    Now, if travelers try to import pot into the US, then they are violating US laws, and they should be sanctioned as such.

  12. drussum

    January 16, 2019 at 10:57 am

    There is a certain funny (sad) situation in which a Canadian who admits having used an illegal substance (pot) is not allowed into the US as a tourist, but US citizens (representative and politicians – even a President) can admit they have used an illegal substance without any legal repercussions and be citizens in good standing.

  13. Amil

    January 19, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    we should open the borders between canada and the us.

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