On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act and a number of supporting regulations and ministerial orders came into force, legalizing recreational use of cannabis for. However, the Cannabis Act still strictly regulates the sale, possession and production of cannabis in Canada. It has also led to some interesting questions for users of legal cannabis: what impact will their use of cannabis have on their ability to travel to other countries?
While Canada has legalized cannabis, this is not the case for our neighbour, the United States. Crossing the Canadian border with cannabis, either entering or leaving, is still illegal. Travelers crossing the border to the U.S. have faced increasing levels of scrutiny in recent years and the legalization of cannabis in Canada will be adding a level of additional complexity for users of cannabis and anyone who works in the cannabis industry.
Below are some important points you should know if you plan to travel to the U.S. and use cannabis or work in the cannabis industry.
You may face a life time ban
Although the possession of cannabis is legal in some U.S. states, it remains illegal under U.S. federal laws in any form and quantity. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection statement issued with regards to the legalization of cannabis in Canada: “any arriving alien (non-U.S. Citizen) who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of, admits having committed, or admits committing, acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of (or an attempt or conspiracy to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the U.S.”
If a Border officer determines that you are inadmissible you may be prevented from entering the U.S. and in some cases you may face a ban on being able to enter in the future.
You should not attempt to cross the Canada-U.S. border with any amount of cannabis in any form, even if you are travelling to a U.S. state that has legalized possession of cannabis. If you do so you can expect legal prosecution and fines, and possibly jail time.
Reciprocal access to U.S. and Canadian criminal records
U.S. Border Officers have access to U.S. and Canadian criminal records. If a Border Officer finds prior charges for cannabis or other drug or alcohol violations, this may make you inadmissible to the U.S., even if the charges did not result in a conviction. It is not possible to prevent the U.S. Border officer from finding you inadmissible for a prior charge or conviction. However by answering all questions truthfully you can prevent the Officer from finding you permanently inadmissible for committing fraud and misrepresentation by denying that you have prior charges.
Your mobile devices and personal belongings may be searched
You should be aware that Border Officers have the authority to search your personal belongings, including all mobile devices – they can even request your cellphone and laptop passwords to fully access the content of your mobile devices. Therefore any content such as photos, text messages or even emails may be interpreted by the Border Officer as evidence that you may have or intend to commit a criminal act, including cannabis use and therefore lead to finding you inadmissible to enter the U.S.
Your online data may put you at risk
Please note that these points are intended for general purposes and if you intend to travel to the U.S. you should obtain qualified legal advice to understand all the risks based on your individual circumstances. The consequences of breaching U.S. laws are grave and as explained above can lead to a permanent ban from entering the U.S. in the future.
Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.