U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have just announced that they will allow employees of Canadian cannabis businesses to enter the country, reversing its previous stance. Even though most U.S. states have legalized cannabis for at least medical use, any individual who has ever used or even been tangentially involved with the marijuana industry is considered in violation of federal law, and is therefore subject to being denied entry into the country.
Even though it will be completely legal for any adult in Canada to use pot as of October 17th, anyone who admits such use to a CBP official is at risk of permanently banned from entering the U.S. Earlier in the year, it was reported that Canadians employed by the cannabis industry — even if they didn't personally touch the plant in their work — were also subject to being banned for life. To make matters worse, U.S. authorities were reportedly scouring the websites of Canadian canna-businesses in order to identify employees and flag them as individuals who should be denied entry.
A full-scale ban on cannabis users and employees could end up prohibiting around 30 million Canadians from entering the U.S., and tensions have been rising as the final legalization date approaches next Wednesday. This week, CBP officials relieved some of these anxieties, releasing a statement clarifying their position on the matter. “A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S.,” the agency said in a statement.
The new memo does not entirely reverse the agency's policy, however. “If a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible,” the statement adds. Bill Blair, Canada's Minister of Border Security, said that he was glad that the CBP has clarified its position on cannabis. "We always knew that if someone in Canada indicated that they were going into the United States to engage in the marijuana business that they would be prohibited from coming because it remains illegal in the United States," Blair said to CTV News.
Len Saunders, a Canadian immigration attorney operating in Washington State, told the Canadian Press that he was “shocked” by the CBP's sudden shift in policy. "This helps hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have any sort of direct or indirect involvement in the Canadian cannabis industry,'' he said. Saunders has advised industry members who are attempting to travel to the U.S. to print out the CBP's recent statement and use it to remind American border police of the new policy change.
Both Canadian and American border authorities have reiterated that bringing pot across the border will result in fines and arrest, even between Canada and a neighboring canna-legal state like Washington. "Canadians have to know that if they choose to do that they could be in serious jeopardy, so we’ll have signs up, and there’ll be education materials, but we'll constantly remind Canadians that you can’t take any amount of cannabis across the border into the United States," Blair explained to CTV.