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US Border Will Still Ban Canadian Weed Smokers After Legalization

A high-ranking border official has some bad news for cannabis workers hoping to ever travel to America.
Passport photo via Flickr user Ritu Ashrafi, joint photo via KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

If you were hoping the US border was going to chill out with its handcuffed interrogations and lifetime bans over Canadians’ weed habits once it’s legal here, we’ve got some bad news for you.

A United States official overseeing the Canada-US border has confirmed that any Canadian visitor who admits they’ve smoked weed before will still be banned for life, even after legalization.

Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner of field operations for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency, told Politico Thursday that cannabis workers and cannabis investors can also expect a lifetime ban.


“If you work for the industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility,” Owen said in a statement. Though many states have voted to legalize cannabis over the last decade, it’s still an illegal drug under US federal law.

Immigration lawyers are already preparing for a “tidal wave” of Canadians being banned from the US after cannabis officially becomes legal on October 17. Last year the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of public safety urged Canadians to “be honest and tell the truth.”

But telling the truth has had brutal consequences for many Canadians, including BC music writer Alan Ranta, who told VICE he was handcuffed and interrogated about his cannabis history at the US border in July 2016.

“We were trying to go to Washington [State], where pot is legal,” Ranta told VICE. “It didn’t seem like that big of a deal.”

In a statement, Owen said that US border guards will ask Canadian travellers about their history with cannabis if they see a good reason to suspect past drug use. In Ranta’s case, a guard noted their camper van was headed for a music festival, and spotted a small change purse with the words “weed money” on it.

“Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there—or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” reads Owen’s statement.

Border guards have the authority to search vehicles and electronic devices for evidence of past drug use. “If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,” Owen said.

Canadians like Ranta who are banned from ever entering the US have the option of paying $585 for a waiver. The exception takes months to process and is granted at the discretion of border agents.

In Ranta’s case, the waiver cost wasn’t worth returning to the US. Come October 17, it’s safe to say he won’t be alone.

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