Ambassador Bridge linking Michigan, U.S. and Ontario, Canada; photo via iStock/ Steven_Kriemadis
As of October 17th, it will be perfectly legal for any Canadian adult to use marijuana or work in the cannabis sector without fear of prosecution from their country's government or law enforcement. But anyone who partakes in any aspect of this new industry may find themselves permanently banned from crossing the border into the U.S., and the situation is set to get worse now that American border authorities are working to identify Canadian cannabis employees.
Under U.S. law, any past or present association with a Schedule I substance like marijuana or heroin is a federal crime, and therefore any Canadian who admits to using cannabis either recreationally or medically is prohibited from entering the country. Now, a new report indicates that anyone employed by any element of the Canadian cannabis industry — from CEOs to cultivators to dispensary workers — is also subject to being banned from entering the United States, even if they have never personally touched the plant in their life.
The number of Canadians who may be willing to admit their perfectly legal pot use or cannabis industry employment is set to grow exponentially this fall, but the U.S. is not planning to walk back its restrictions. “Admission requirements into the United States will not change due to Canada’s legalization of cannabis,” a Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said to The Star Vancouver.
Those who are banned for life can still apply to enter the country, however, if they have a legal waiver from an immigration lawyer, which can allow access for a period of one to five years. Washington-based immigration lawyer Len Saunders told The Star that the number of requests for pot-related waivers has recently increased from one or two per year, to one or two per week.
U.S. border officials may actually even be ramping up their efforts to catch foreign cannabis industry members and prevent them from visiting. Saunders said that he believes authorities are actively searching the websites of Canadian canna-businesses in order to identify staff members and create “lookouts” for them in the border agency's computer systems, so that guards will know to question these individuals about their involvement with marijuana.
The combination of fully legal weed in Canada and increased border restrictions in the U.S. is likely to greatly exacerbate this problem this fall. “My prediction is, come October 17, it’s going to be a tidal wave of cases,” said Saunders. “It’s going to happen even more, and especially now that they’re going after business travellers, it’s going to be the Wild West at the border. It’s going to be crazy.”
For any Canadian cannabis users or employees who wish to enter the U.S., Saunders recommends keeping quiet about one's involvement with the cannabis industry. Admitting this involvement is a certain way to get banned from the country, but being caught lying about it will also get one barred for life. The best solution would be to refuse to answer any questions about marijuana, and withdraw one's request to enter the country if necessary. “The worst that can happen if you shut up is a simple denied entry,” he told The Star.