Shortly after Canada legalized adult-use cannabis, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that any foreign citizen who admits to using pot even once in their lives can be permanently banned from entering the US. Originally, border police stated that they'd even permanently ban employees of Canadian cannabis companies, but the agency eventually backed down on this restriction.
Although they're willing to chill on this one issue, CBP officers are continuing to enforce their extreme prohibition of cannabis. A Canadian woman may now be permanently banned from entering the US after she inadvertently tried to cross the border with medical CBD oil — which is legal in both Canada and the US.
Last weekend, CBP officials stopped a young woman (who's chosen to remain anonymous) at the Blaine, Washington border crossing. Officers asked the woman if she was carrying any “leafy greens” on her. "I said no because, to me, 'leafy greens' is like marijuana, the actual bud, things that you smoke, recreational drugs,” the woman told CBC News.
CBP officials searched the woman's backpack and discovered a bottle of CBD oil, which the woman was using medically to treat symptoms of scoliosis. Police issued her a $500 fine for failing to declare the oil, fingerprinted her, and denied her access to the country. Now, she may be banned from the US for life.
The woman said she was unaware that carrying this non-psychoactive medicine across the border was even an issue. “I just always have [the CBD oil] on me because I take it daily and because of his wording, 'leafy greens,' I didn't fully understand that I needed to declare it," she told the CBC. "I felt like a criminal and they seemed like, 'Oh, here's another pothead using this.' I didn't feel like I was treated with respect on it, considering it's for a medical purpose."
"There seems to be a lot of confusion with Canadians entering the US with regards to CBD and THC and all the derivatives from marijuana," said Len Saunders, a Blaine-based immigration lawyer, to CBC News. "From my experience, if anything is coming from the marijuana plant, even if it's an oil or a gummy candy, it seems to be grounds not only for inadmissibility and fines ... but also a lifetime ban.”
"Even though she made an honest mistake, if the officers deem that she has a controlled substance with her, and she admitted to it, then she's inadmissible for the rest of her life,” Saunders continued. “Even if she gets a waiver approved, she'll still have to go through a renewal every year, two years, or five years."
If she ever wants to enter the US again, the woman must apply for a special waiver via a new online portal called e-SAFE. In order to be approved for re-entry, the woman must pay $600 and provide a wealth of information, including a criminal record check, a letter expressing her remorse for not declaring the CBD, letters of reference, and proof of employment, work history, and residence. If the application is approved, border security may still require that she submit to a drug test any time she crosses the border.
"It's a lot of personal information that some people would prefer not to give to the U.S. government, but they have to if they want to have a waiver approved,” Saunders said. “It's not optional. It's required."
A CBP spokesperson told the CBC that “travellers found in possession of controlled substances at U.S. ports of entry can face arrest, seizures, fines, penalties or denied entry."
CBD oils containing less than 0.3 percent THC content are no longer controlled substances in the US, however, as the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp and all of its byproducts from the Controlled Substances Act.
CBP officials said that they will be reviewing their policies to reflect the legality of hemp-derived products under the Farm Bill, but until that time, officers are under their own discretion to ban any foreign citizen who attempts to bring any cannabis product across the border, regardless of its legality.