Cannabis, Canada Day, and crossing into the USA

Cross-border travel tends to increase significantly on Canadian long weekends. On the first business day after the long weekend, the phone starts to ring with people telling a familiar story.

I pulled up to the booth. The officer sent me inside. When I got inside they asked if I ever smoked marijuana, and I said ‘yes.’ After that it seemed like everything was going to be cool, but then they had me sign something and sent me back to Canada.

As frustrating as that story is, it pales in comparison to what the caller usually hears next.

You are most likely inadmissible to the United States, and will need to apply for a waiver before you can travel there again. The Department of Homeland Security charges a filing fee of $585 for a waiver application. Waivers are usually valid for five years, but your first application is usually only approved for one year. When your waiver expires you will need to apply for a new one. For the rest of your life, or as long as you want to continue crossing the border, you will need a waiver.

With a long weekend approaching, it’s worth noting that this conversation stands in stark contrast to the story that U.S. Customs and Border Protection allows the public to see.

Dope is available on Netflix (it’s described as a documentary series, but I’m skeptical). In episode 3 of season 2 it shows Customs and Border Protection officers searching a car. Therein, they find a small amount of marijuana. The lead officer then tells the traveler,

If we write you a ticket, now you have a possession charge, which means you cannot come in to the United States. What you do in the privacy of your own home is up to you. But when you cross the border that’s when I care. We can take your car, too. I’m not going to waste my time with this little roach, but just clean out your car.

The viewer is left with the impression that the traveler was let off with a warning, which NEVER happens in real life.

What really happens is that people who get caught with marijuana at a U.S. port of entry are interrogated for hours. They are asked if the substance found in the car is in fact marijuana, if they knew it was marijuana, and if they intended to possess it. At the end, inspecting officers ask if the traveler knew that possession of marijuana is a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Anyone who admits to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of the Controlled Substances Act is inadmissible to the United States (INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II)). The upshot of many interrogations by Customs and Border Protection is that the traveler makes this type of admission and receives an inadmissibility finding.

On July 1st, 2018 don’t believe what you saw on TV. And don’t be the person calling my office on Tuesday morning.

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