Canadians working in the cannabis industry could face a lifetime ban from entering the US according to reports in the US media this week (September 2018).
According to a senior border official, Canadians involved in the cannabis industry could be deemed inadmissible to the US even if they have never used the drug previously.
The news comes with Canada just over a month away from becoming the first member of the G7 to fully legalize recreational cannabis and while over 25 US states have now also legalized either medical or recreational cannabis, the drug still remains illegal at federal level.
Todd Owen, of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed to Politico:
"If you work for the industry (cannabis), that is grounds for inadmissibility"
"Facilitating the proliferation of the legal cannabis industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect an individual's admissibility to the U.S.," he continued.
The CBP confirmed the news in a statement to CBC News:
“As cannabis remains federally prohibited in the U.S., working or having involvement in the legal cannabis industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect an individual's admissibility to the U.S."
Lifetime Bans for Cannabis Involvement and ...lying?
While not every Canadian should expect to be grilled on their past involvement in cannabis, those that lie about any past drug use will also face a lifetime ban from the country according to the agent.
“Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used cannabis, but if other questions lead there — or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” Owen said.
“Likewise, cannabis residue, which can linger for weeks inside a car, could be detected by CBP inspection dogs and lead to further questioning” he added.
Owen confirmed that those asked about past drug use will also be excluded from entering if they are found to be lying.
“If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,”
With both offenses carrying a lifetime ban, you have to wonder what motivation there would be for any Canadian to tell the truth about cannabis when crossing the border.
At present, US border officials can deny entry to anyone who admits to consuming cannabis previously or if they plan to purchase cannabis during their stay in the US, even if cannabis is legal in that very same state.
For those who have been banned, it is possible to apply for an exemption from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) however the procedure can take up to a year to complete and costs about $600 in fees and legal costs.
Additionally, the waivers are not permanent and most typically have to reapply on multiple occasions.
Annamaria Enenajor, a criminal lawyer and executive director of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, confirmed that Canadians need to be aware of the potentially serious consequences of crossing the border:
"If you have investments in cannabis companies, even companies that are publicly traded, that could raise flags," she told CBC.
"if you're stopped at the border and you face questions about your involvement with cannabis, and you answer those questions in the positive, you can face a lifetime ban," she stated,
It seems like Canadians with any past or current involvement in cannabis are being left somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The Canadian government has warned their citizens that "previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S” and it would now appear that Involvement in the legal cannabis industry will also prohibit Canadians from entering the U.S.
While ordinary Canadians who have used cannabis have faced issues with crossing the border in years gone by, the new cannabis legislation in Canada has undoubtedly brought the issue to a head with more Canadians than ever now involved in cannabis in one way or another.
With nearly 400,00 people crossing the border between Canada and the US on a daily basis, the issue is now affecting Canadians whose only apparent misdemeanour is to be involved with the legalized cannabis industry in either the U.S or Canada.
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Canadian Cannabis Investor Banned from Entering US
Take the case of Canadian Sam Znaimer who was recently denied entry at a Washington state border crossing by officials who said his investments in U.S. cannabis companies prohibited him from entering the country.
Znaimer claimed: “I spent four hours, four-and-a-half hours at the border station and at the end of that whole process I was told that I’d been permanently banned from entering the U.S.”
Znaimer’s attorney, immigration lawyer Len Saunders, confirmed that he has received phone calls from increasingly concerned Canadians connected to the cannabis industry, including senior executives of Canadian cannabis companies.
“I’m getting panicked phone calls from Canadian companies who are concerned about their staff being denied entry and liability issues, or about themselves because they are senior executives,” said Saunders.
As mentioned, under U.S. federal law, Canadians who admit to using cannabis or other illegal substances are inadmissible to the United States but the law has never been applied with consistency claims Saunders:
“It’s this inconsistent application of the law that drives me crazy,” he said.
A perfect example of this inconsistent application of the law is the case of Margaret Trudeau, mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was allowed to enter the US in 2016 for a state dinner with President Obama despite having admitted (in writing) to her use of cannabis.
Mrs. Trudeau, rather than being turned away at the border, or indeed banned for life, was instead welcomed to the White House with open arms and subsequently praised by Obama for her work on raising awareness on mental health issues as well as receiving a round of applause by an audience who were probably unaware that she had actually broken US border laws to attend the dinner.
Saunders, who specializes in obtaining waivers for Canadians who receive lifetime bans after admitting to their cannabis use at the border explained that based on how other Canadians are regularly treated, Mrs. Trudeau “should not have been allowed into the United States.”
One absurd, arbitrary law for the ordinary citizen to obey, unsurprisingly, does not apply to the political elite.
Most worryingly, entry to the US is under the sole discretion of the whichever U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are on duty at any given time and their scope for questioning is both broad and intimidating.
"What they do is they interrogate you. They tell you that if you don't tell them the truth, they're going to do a drug test on you. They can't do that," Saunders said.
"They tell you they're going to do a lie-detector test. They can't do that. They tell you they will hold you indefinitely or possibly arrest you for not telling the truth. They can't do that.
"I see this intimidation. People eventually break down and they admit to it. So these people become a client for life."
Clearly, Canadians, and in fact, all foreign nationals need to be aware of the laws that can be applied at US border control and while they may seem arbitrary and unfair, they must be respected, or you could well find yourself barred entry to the U.S for the rest of your life.