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From the Desk of Rosanna Berardi: Have You Ever Smoked Marijuana? How Your Answer Can Determine Your Fate at the U.S./Canadian Border

The legalization of marijuana in Canada is scheduled for the summer of 2018. There is a lot of speculation surrounding how it will impact travel to the U.S. Experts are predicting that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will ask travelers if they have ever smoked marijuana in the past. Travelers must be very careful when answering this question. Our firm has seen CBP deny travelers entry to the U.S. if they answer “yes” even if the incident was 25 years ago.
How is this possible? The current U.S. immigration law states that a person may be inadmissible to the U.S. if he or she has been convicted of a crime OR admits to having committed acts which constitute the essential elements of a crime. CBP has taken the last portion of this law and has denied entry to the U.S. for individuals who admit to smoking marijuana. Based on this logic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be denied admission to the U.S.
So how should a traveler answer this loaded question? Travelers must always tell the truth.  However, it’s important for travelers to know their rights at the border. In order to be rendered inadmissible from the U.S. for a mere admission of a criminal offense, CBP must: 1) place a traveler under oath, advise that it’s illegal to smoke marijuana in the U.S. and provide the traveler with a definition and essential elements of the federal/state law prohibiting marijuana use and 2) the traveler must freely admit that he/she has committed each element of the offense. Unless CBP follows these steps, travelers cannot be refused admission to the U.S. for merely admitting to the use of marijuana.
There will be great uncertainty at the border once marijuana is legalized in Canada. Travelers need to be prepared and think about how they will answer CBP’s inspection questions. It is critical to have a plan in place.
If you have questions on this issue or would like more information, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!