Canadians who work or invest in the country’s booming marijuana industry risk a lifetime ban on travel to the United States.
The statement, writes POLITICO, came from a ‘senior official’ overseeing U.S. border operations.
The announcement could complicate Canada’s move toward marijuana legalization. Starting on October 17th, the country is set to move its cannabis sector entirely above-ground. The move is expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue, prompting stock sales and widespread jobs growth.
But the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says it won’t take Canada’s sovereignty into consideration. Federal law still considers cannabis a banned substance, even though several American states have allowed for its recreational use.
Since the federal government maintains that marijuana is a scheduled drug, its distributors are treated as narcotics traffickers—even if they’re licensed and allowed to operate under Canadian law.
Just like members of al-Qaeda and Mexican drug cartels, marijuana distributors are inadmissible to the United States.
Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the CBP’s Office of Field Operations, told POLTIICO that the agency isn’t planning to ‘interrogate every Canadian traveler about marijuana use.’
“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 said. Traces of marijuana residue could be cause for detention, too, if they’re detected by drug dogs and correctly identified by their handlers.
Owen recommended that travelers always be honest when asked about marijuana use.
“If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,” Owen said.
Admitting to illegal drug use carries its own penalties. Consumption of cannabis renders a traveler inadmissible to the United States.
POLTIICO says the CBP ‘typically’ will either allow guilty parties the opportunity to ‘voluntarily withdraw’ from the border or face a more forceful ‘expedited removal.’
One way or another, Customs and Border Patrol will retain a record of the refusal. If a traveler wishes to return to the United States, they’ll need to apply for a waiver. That waiver, which lifts a lifetime ban, can cost $585 and take months to process.
Even with the fee paid, there’s no guarantee that inadmissibility will be revoked.
Being honest would carry the same penalty for anyone working in the marijuana industry. Questions about careers and academic status aren’t uncommon along the border, meaning that anyone involved with legal cannabis picking, distribution or investment could be refused entry to the United States.
“If you work for the industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility,” Owen said.
“Facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect an individual’s admissibility to the U.S.,’ Owen said, adding that marijuana investors from countries like Israel have been turned around at airports and border checkpoints.
Scott Railton, of Washington’s Cascadia Cross-Border Law firm, told MarketWatch.com that the move may be unprecedented.
“That’s the first time I’ve actually heard them say a Canadian-only enterprise is an illegal enterprise for U.S. entry purposes,” Railton said.
“I really question how they can deny someone admissibility on the illegal-trafficking grounds when the industry is not illicit in a foreign country,” he said. “That’s a novel interpretation of law that is an expansive one and that will require a judge to look at.”