In less than two months Canadians will be able to legally buy, grow, and consume marijuana without the threat of jail or a fine.
While legalization will bring in much needed revenue in Canada, there are some very thorny legal issues regarding how the United States border control officers will enforce US federal marijuana laws.
In the US, medical marijuana use is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia and recreational use of marijuana is legal in 9 states. Unfortunately, marijuana is still considered illegal under US federal law and foreigners travelling to the United States who have used it may be at risk of being considered inadmissible.
Those working and profiting from the marijuana industry may be seen as “living off the proceeds of crime” or as an “illicit trafficker” according to US federal law. This could be true even if that person does not directly grow or distribute marijuana for the company and would include, for example, someone performing administrative duties. Some have speculated that those legally selling marijuana could be found inadmissible.
While it is too early to know how border control officers will enforce the law in the long run, the high level of discretion given to border officials means that any person associated with the marijuana industry runs the risk of being considered inadmissible. So far there has been at least one major story of a marijuana investor being barred for life from the United States.
When a foreigner is found inadmissible to the United States for any marijuana-related activity, that person must obtain a waiver of inadmissibility to travel to the US. The process for getting that waiver is costly and can take as long as a year to complete.
Lying about involvement with the industry or prior pot use, however, could lead to further problems. Misrepresentation or providing fraudulent documents to a US official is illegal and would likely lead to inadmissibility and harsher treatment from border officials.
Knowing that a person could be turned away if they are associated with the marijuana industry, it may be best to not respond at all to questions about involvement. Non-citizens have the same right to silence as US citizens do, and there is no requirement that a person crossing the border must answer questions from a border guard.
However, using the right to silence could be time-consuming and costly. A border guard may respond by turning a person away or subjecting them to further searches and delays.