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Legalization of Marijuana in Canada and Possible Repercussions for Cross-border Travel

Earlier this year, Canada passed legislation that would fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana on October 17, 2018. As our previous blog posts have mentioned, while marijuana has already been legalized in some U.S. states, it still remains an illegal substance federally. Consequently, as these state and federal (and now Canadian) laws collide, we anticipate problems for foreign nationals crossing the United States – Canada border. 
Despite the fact that marijuana is legal in some states, the border remains federal jurisdiction, patrolled by federally regulated U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. Under current legislation, CBP Officers have discretion to bar entry of a foreign national that admits to acts that violate the law, or if the foreign national is determined by an officer to be a drug abuser or addict. Canadians that admit to using marijuana effectually admit to a federal criminal act, and this can result in a lifelong ban from the United States. 
A simple question like “what do you do for a living?” if posed by a CBP officer, could also be problematic for a foreign national that works with or invests in the marijuana industry, even in states where it is legal. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a determination by CBP that a foreign national was aiding, assisting or colluding in the illicit trafficking of a controlled substance would result in permanent inadmissibility to the U.S. For example, it has been reported that CBP has recently issued lifelong bans to Canadians with investments in legal American marijuana companies, whereby they have determined that this is assisting or colluding in the illicit trafficking of drugs. 
While admitting to use or involvement with marijuana would likely lead to problems when applying for entry, the alternative — that is to lie and deny use or affiliation — is not any better. Misrepresentations by a foreign national with the intent to deceive a CBP officer is also grounds for permanent inadmissibility. If it were discovered that you had lied to a border official about your involvement with marijuana, it is likely that you would be barred entry, and any chance of seeking future immigration benefits would be seriously impacted.
Fortunately, those who do receive an entry ban due to marijuana use may be able to seek a special nonimmigrant waiver in order to re-enter the U.S. Such a waiver is valid for a maximum of five years, and can be a useful tool to help redress a bar from entry. Berardi Immigration Law attorneys have successfully secured numerous waivers for our clients, and we would recommend consulting with our attorneys to help you navigate this process.
Presently, the best way to avoid any kind of trouble at the border is to avoid any use or association with marijuana. If a CBP official asks a marijuana-related question, don’t lie. Rather, if you have used marijuana, it might be best to refuse to answer the question, withdraw your request to enter, and return back to Canada. You might even wish to consider meeting clients in Canada, or virtually through remote web-based meeting applications.
If you have any questions about an upcoming trip to the U.S. and are concerned about possible complications stemming from marijuana legalization, please contact us today. Our attorneys would be happy to assist you in crossing the border with confidence!