Legal weed is big business in border states. From the US/Canada border in the north to the US/Mexico border in the south, two states that border two different countries in the US have passed medical and recreational marijuana laws. And while its common knowledge not to try to bring weed over the border with you, what are you supposed to say when border officials ask if you’ve used weed in the past?
“Have You Used Marijuana in the Past?” A Common Question at the US/Canada Border
No matter what direction you’re traveling, as a cannabis consumer it’s important to know what could happen at the US/Canada border. Heading into Canada usually won’t warrant being grilled about your cannabis use but coming over into the US might be a bit of a different story.
It isn’t uncommon nowadays for US border officials to ask Canadian visitors about prior marijuana use. Admitting you’ve smoked pot in the past can get you barred from entering the US…for life.
Seriously, if you’re Canadian, even if you’re not even high when you’re crossing the border, or you haven’t smoked in a decade, admit you’ve consumed cannabis in the past and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can deny you entrance to the US. They can even banish you forever if they want. Canadians getting caught with weed trying to cross the border can most likely kiss their chances of ever coming into the US goodbye for good.
Another common thing US border officials might ask Canadians on their way into the States? If they’re coming over to buy weed.
Len Saunders is an immigration lawyer who has a practice in Blaine, Washington just a few blocks over the border. He said he is amazed at how many people say “yes” to this question.
“It’s like asking about your sex life,” Saunders says. “There are some things that are simply none of their business.”
There’s a number of different reasons you might get asked about past cannabis use at the Canadian border. If you’re a Canadian who wants to come across the border into the US, you should plan to be profiled. If you look like you smoke weed, you’re going to get questioned. Saunders says people that look like a “hippy” are sure to get questioned. Sporting a nice set of dreads? Wearing the Grateful Dead tie-dye from your first show? US border agents are going to ask if you’ve smoked weed before. They’ll probably even ask if you have any on you.
Saunders says, “I frequently see young Canadians dressed as throwbacks to the 60s and 70s get sent inside to secondary inspection. Rarely do I see a group of young professionals in business suits being questioned about marijuana use.”
Fadi Miwani is a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in Canadian and US immigration law who says there are countless reasons someone may be flagged for extra attention when crossing the border. He says that people going to Las Vegas to party, individuals attending music festivals, and business people who frequently travel between the US and Canada, and someone with a past customs violation could all prompt officials to ask if they’ve smoked pot in the past.
Saunders advice to Canadians who are stopped? Refuse to answer the question. He says although they might be held for several hours, there is no legal requirement to answer the question.
Canadians that do get barred from entering the US for admitting to past pot use can apply for a waiver that allows them back in. But it’s expensive. To the tune of $930US ($1250CDN) expensive. The application also must be restarted from scratch every few years.
The “Clash” Between State Cannabis Laws and US Immigration Laws
In 2016, a Chilean woman innocently let immigration officials in Los Angeles know she had smoked pot in Colorado when she was questioned about it at customs.
“Yes, I tried marijuana in Colorado,” she answered. “It’s legal there.”
She now faces a lifetime ban to the US, one that has ruined a relationship she had with a US citizen and crushed her plans to go to grad school in Colorado.
According to popular Denver newspaper the Westword, the Chilean woman is part of a “growing clash between state cannabis reforms and US immigration law’s unyielding austere approach to marijuana.”
Even though marijuana is legal in a number of different states across the country, it’s still illegal for non-US citizens to consume it. And they say that in the last decade more people than ever before have been penalized and deported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for cannabis-related crimes.
What About Marijuana at the Mexican Border?
In San Diego things look a bit different for Mexican citizens coming and going across the border. It’s not a common question to get asked at the US/Mexican border if you’ve used cannabis in the past. But since medical cannabis in California was legalized some 20 years ago, bringing cannabis purchased in California back across the border into Mexico has become a more common occurrence.
Jaime Andres Vinasco Barco is a PhD student at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana who has been studying the cross-border cannabis occurrence for the past few years.
“One of the most important things to take into account when you’re analyzing or observing this cross-border phenomenon of consuming and moving drugs is the paradox,” said Vinasco. “For almost 100 years, Mexico was principally an exporter of cannabis to the United States and about 20 years ago it started to become a small-scale importer.”
Mexicans travelling back over the border home with their California cannabis are rarely (if ever) busted or questioned about their cannabis consumption.
When crossing either border and no matter what country you happen to come from, it’s in your best interest to follow Saunders’ advice and refrain from answering the question if border agents so happen to inquire. And whatever you do, don’t get caught with any cannabis on you when trying to cross, no matter what country you’re headed in or out of. Doing so could have dire consequences.