More people associated with cannabis or the cannabis industry are being turned away, or permanently barred, at the 100-plus crossing points along the 5,525-mile United States border with Canada.
Since Washington state legalized recreational cannabis four years ago, lifetime crossing bans have risen sharply, a Canadian immigration lawyer says.
“No matter where, when or how much you've smoked, you're in violation of the Controlled Substances Act as far as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is concerned,” Vancouver, British Columbia-based immigration attorney Mark Belanger told Marijuana.com. “It's cause for a lifetime ban and it's nothing new. “We've had hundreds of cases in our office over the last 15 years, but now there's definitely an upsurge.”
CBP agents can, and do, ask Canadians if they've ever used drugs, Belanger said: “And that's not going to change anytime soon because of the southern border with Mexico,” where drug cartels continue to operate.
A U.S. State Department official told Marijuana.com via email that as long as marijuana possession is against federal law in the U.S., “The U.S. Customs and Border Protection will enforce the law as appropriate. Legalization of marijuana in Canada will not have any impact on marijuana's legality in the United States. Thus, it is important that Canadians are aware of possible actions they may face upon attempted entry into the United States if they possess or have residue of marijuana.”
Apparently, it's not only marijuana residue coming under scrutiny. Canadians tangentially involved with the cannabis industry also are being targeted.
That was the case when businessman Jay Evans was questioned at the U.S. border in April 2018.
“They asked where I was going and I told them [that I was going] to talk to engineers about designing products for the Canadian cannabis industry,” said Evans, CEO of Keirton, Inc., a British Columbia company that designs agricultural and hydroponic solutions.
Although Keirton is not involved in the production, distribution, or sale of cannabis, it manufactures equipment for others who are.
As a result, Evans and two colleagues, both engineers, were told that U.S. federal law viewed them as participants in the illegal drug trade. They were barred for life from entering the United States.
“The border guard supervisor said he felt bad, that he knew it wasn't fair, but he was doing his job,” Evans told Marijuana.com.
Immigration attorney Belanger sees additional motives behind the practice. “No question, it's a money-making thing, a form of tax revenue.”
Once banned from the U.S., an individual can apply for a waiver to the tune of $585 for Canadians and Mexicans. If you're from elsewhere, it costs $985.
“You apply for a waiver which is submitted to someone in Norfolk, Virginia, whom you'll never see. They check all the boxes deeming you're 'rehabilitated,' stamp the application, then pass it to another agency. Piles of paperwork later, you've got a non-immigrant visa waiver,” Belanger said. “Then, you do it again in five years, if you can afford it.”
More than 95 percent of the waivers he solicits are approved within six to eight months, Belanger said. He expects many more cases on his desk beginning in fall 2018. Canada is set to fully legalize cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018.
“With the CBP going after anyone remotely connected to the Canadian industry, there's going to be a flood of waiver requests,” Belanger said. “It's good for my business, but it doesn't say much for relations between the two neighboring countries.”