With the Senate's passing of Bill C-45 this week, Canada is now the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana. Within the next few weeks, the country will open its first federally-sanctioned marijuana stores, allowing Canadians to legally purchase and use marijuana recreationallly.
However, despite the legalization, Canadians still need to be wary when travelling south of the border, as marijuana is still illegal in the United States. Under current U.S. immigration laws, foreigners can be denied entry or even permanently banned from the United States for: 1) attempting to cross while possessing a controlled substance, 2) violating U.S. drug laws or 3) admitting past drug use.
When crossing the U.S. border from Canada, travellers will be asked if they have by border officials if they have ever used marijuana and other drugs in the past. Upon admission of past drug use, travellers will be subjected to a series of other questions ultimately leading to a possible lifetime entry ban.
Julie, a 56-year-old retiree from Vancouver, experienced that very sequence of events while travelling to Tuscon to visit her daughter at the University of Arizona. Having been ticketed for marijuana possession in 1984, she admitted past drug use to border officials, and was slapped with a lifetime entry ban and a revoked NEXUS card as a result.
"If it was something that happened recently, I'd understand it. I didn't expect to be treated like a freaking criminal for something that happened so long ago," Julie said.
Though denied entry of travellers who merely admit past drug use is relatively rare, the legalization of marijuana in Canada could mean that border patrol officers will be keeping a closer eye on Canadians seeking entry into the United States. Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Canadian senator, made a recent visit to Washington, D.C. and was told by U.S. law enforcement that Canadian travellers will soon be subject to stricter scrutiny at the border.
Before legalization, Canadians were only banned from the United States for past marijuana-related criminal convictions. However, Boisvenu says that merely admitting past drug use is now grounds for being permanently banned. There will also be more drug-sniffing canines employed at high-traffic ports of entry after the legalization.
"We wanted to know if they will change their policy to control Canadians that will cross the border after they legalize marijuana. They said no. We asked them, 'Will you increase the control?' They said yes," explained Boisvenu.
Canadians who end up on the ban list can apply for an inadmissibility waiver to re-enter the United States, but each waiver costs $585 (USD) and only lasts up to five years at a time.
The Trudeau government has been urged by the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to ask U.S. officials to clarify the laws. Will Canadians who admit to past marijuana use will automatically face inadmissibility, or not? The committee strongly believes that Canadians should not be punished for activities that are legal in Canada.