Are Canadians Really Being Banned from Entering US for Having Tried Cannabis?
Consider this scenario: in Canada, people are allowed to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and in Washington state its recreational use is legal. However, at the discretion of border control, people trying to enter Washington who’ve been asked about and admitted to past marijuana use, are being denied entry. For some, indefinitely. Believe it or not, Canadians really are being banned from entering the US for having tried cannabis.
It’s The Law
According to INA: Act 212, border officials have the right to question people crossing the border from Canada into the US about past drug use. Grouping them in with drug users, prostitutes, officials known to have violated religious freedoms, and human drug traffickers, officials consider an answer of “yes” to past use of cannabis a violation of the law. It’s assumed that admission of past use implies it was done prior to laws legalizing cannabis. This in turn yields the implication that a law’s been broken. So Canadians who make the mistake of answering honestly, they join the club of the aforementioned crowd. Some even face being barred from the US for life, unless they want to pay $600 for a waiver that isn’t a quick fix and is only temporary.
Border Crossing Contradiction
It’s just a little more than confusing, trying to figure it out. If it’s legal to use cannabis in two different places (especially those that share a border), why does crossing over one side of the border lead to breaking the law?
Two men who’ve faced the border officials and regretfully answered “yes” to their question of past cannabis use can both pledge to knowing the consequences of the law. Alan Ranta, a thirty-something music journalist, and Matthew Harvey, a medical marijuana user, were both held at the border even though neither one of them had any cannabis in their possession. Just the admission of past use allowed border officials to deny them entry, with Harvey being barred for life from entering the US. He had no concerns over being honest about his use, as he had a medical marijuana card from Canada and was entering a state where it’s legal. Little did he know he’d spend six hours in detainment, being questioned by border officials. Ranta was detained as well with handcuffs and questioned. Neither one of them could have ever imagined a simple trip into the US would be so complicated.
A can of worms not yet opened is what would happen if Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to attend a meeting in the US. Having been open with the public about his past marijuana use, there would be no way to deny it, if asked. However, because his admission wasn’t made in front of an immigration officer, it doesn’t necessarily count. The only harm posed is that with his past use being made public, officials could choose to question him. While this would create a very sticky situation, it’s highly unlikely that Trudeau, as Canadian Prime Minister, would face the issue when entering the US.
How To Get Around It
It’s important to note that not all border officials will ask this question. It’s up to their discretion. To avoid the issue, should it come up, people can just say no. There are ramifications for doing this, though, should someone be caught. This kind of misrepresentation can lead to being permanently barred. People with attorney’s are often advised not to lie and instead just not answer the question.
Another thing to consider is that the law only applies to use prior to cannabis being allowed for medicinal use. Cardholders should not be concerned as long as they have proof and don’t admit to using cannabis prior to the current laws.
With Canada aiming to legalize cannabis by 2018, officials truly hope a compromise between the two countries can be made to sort out the confusion. The current situation, if it continues, will only escalate and cause friction as Canadians using cannabis legally are denied entry to the US because of it.
This post was originally published on May 27, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.