Canadian Legalization Of Weed Inbound, Canadians Might Be Turned Away From U.S. Border By Admitting Use

Cannabis flower in front of the Canadian flag.
Dougie Jones / shutterstock

With Canada set to officially legalize the recreational use of cannabis this coming Wednesday, October 17, the repercussions for Canadians looking to hop beyond their federal jurisdiction into the United States would do well to stay mum on their smoking — or eating — habits.

According to the Washington Examiner, Canadians should be aware that just because there is a loosening of laws in Canada, that doesn’t equate to the same easing of the legal framework in the United States. In fact, Customs and Border Protection agents have broad powers to deny nearly any entrant into their nation, regardless of whether a tourist is looking to enter for completely unrelated reasons or no.

The problem deepens, given that with cannabis legalization comes a legal industry projected to be valued in billions rather than millions, employing tens of thousands of Canadian citizens. While the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website has offered a revised statement that allows for Canadian cannabis industry workers to provisionally enter the United States — the conditions being nebulous and subject to individual judgment on the part of the CBP agent one encounters during any particular border crossing — this offers cold comfort to most critics, including Washington state defense attorney Douglas Hiatt.

“You have wholesale violation of money laundering laws and finance laws and potential wire fraud. You’ve got the entire panoply of federal charges available. There has not been one iota of change in federal law… Anyone who’s involved in any way [in Canada’s retail market] can be prosecuted under federal law. There’s no doubt about that. None.”

As the Windsor Star details, things are about to get a lot stickier for Canadians attempting to cross the border into the United States, particularly if they have partaken of the plant in question. While several states have individually decided to legislatively legalize recreational and medical marijuana, they are still technically trumped by existing federal law to the contrary, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug — the classification schedule afforded to cocaine and LSD, according to Americans For Safe Access. Under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis — believe it or not — is classified as more dangerous than cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and oxycodone.

While immigration lawyer Len Saunders may be sympathetic to the plight of Canadians in this matter, he is firm in his suggestion that those Canadian citizens who do work in the industry — or even whom recreationally enjoy cannabis — steer clear of the border.

“Your government has failed to understand the consequences on Canadians who cross the border… I warned them: ‘This is going to get worse.'”

The issue expands beyond one of personal tourism and cross-border commuters for work into a larger concern for the trucking industry in North America. Trucking companies which are responsible for hauling approximately 70 percent of the $600 billion in annual trade between the two nations are also eying the situation gravely. Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said that the friction between American and Canadian federal law could end up being very costly at the border — both in terms of time and in terms of financial losses.

“It’s a significant issue — this policy has the potential to be disruptive… Our advice to members — know your risk tolerance. What is legal transportation in Canada may be grounds for denial to cross the border.”