Canadian border guards are silhouetted as they replace each other at an inspection booth at the Douglas border crossing on the Canada-USA border in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday August 20, 2009. One year after pot became legal in Canada, it’s still a tricky issue to cross the U.S. border where marijuana is not legal federally. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian border guards are silhouetted as they replace each other at an inspection booth at the Douglas border crossing on the Canada-USA border in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday August 20, 2009. One year after pot became legal in Canada, it’s still a tricky issue to cross the U.S. border where marijuana is not legal federally. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Pot use admission at U.S. border snagging Canadian boomers, says lawyer

A waiver to enter the U.S. can cost $2,000 and isn’t a guarantee

Canadians wanting to cross the U.S. border are being asked different marijuana questions than they were before cannabis was legal, says an American immigration lawyer who represents numerous aging baby boomers denied entry to America for past pot use.

Recreational marijuana will have been legal for a year on Thursday, but any celebrating still stops at the U.S. border, said Len Saunders, a Canadian-born lawyer based in Blaine, Wash.

“They are not asking questions of recent use because they know they can’t deny the person because it’s legal in Canada,” he said. Instead, he said they’re asking Canadians if they have ever smoked marijuana and that’s what’s been keeping him busy.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office was not available for comment, but an official emailed a statement dated September 2018 that said U.S. laws will not change after Canada’s legalization of marijuana.

The statement said even though medical and recreational marijuana is legal in some U.S. states and Canada, marijuana is not legal under U.S. federal law which supersedes those laws.

“Consequently, crossing the border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension,” said the statement.

Border officials are currently compiling data about the number of Canadians stopped at U.S. crossings since marijuana legalization in Canada, but the figures are not available, the statement said.

Saunders said he has noticed over the past year an increase in Canadians in their 50s and 60s wanting his services after being denied entry to the United States because of admitted marijuana use.

“It’s prior to legalization and they admit to it, then it’s still grounds to inadmissibility,” he said. “They say, ‘I did it back in the 70s, hippie stuff.’ “

Barry Rough, a resident of Langley, B.C., said he received a lifetime ban from the U.S. last August after he told border officials that he last smoked marijuana 18 years ago.

Rough, 61, said he was travelling to Emerson, Wash., to offer addictions counselling to an Indigenous group but border officials denied his entry to the U.S.

“They asked me if I’d ever done drugs and I just told the truth,” he said. “I didn’t want to lie, so I told them, ‘Yes, I smoked marijuana 18 years ago.’ Four hours later, I was escorted across the border after I was fingerprinted, frisked, pictures taken and asked 1,000 questions, the same question every time.”

Rough said he hired Saunders to help him apply for a waiver to enter the United States. His family has vacation property in Palm Springs, Calif., and he wants to visit later this year.

He estimated the waiver process will cost him about US$2,000. The cost includes legal fees, criminal record checks and he is expected to write a letter of remorse for smoking marijuana in the past.

Rough warned other Canadians could face the same circumstances.

“If you say you have tried it you are risking going through the same process I went through,” Rough said.

READ MORE: Pot confiscation at Canadian border increased in weeks after legalization: stats

Saunders said hiring him is not a guarantee that Canadians will be allowed back into the United States.

The waiver process can take up to one year to complete and is not permanent, meaning people often must reapply, he said.

Toronto immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk said he hasn’t seen many cases where people have been denied access to the U.S. on grounds of marijuana use.

“People are often not asked, have they smoked marijuana before?” he said. “The advice we give our clients is always to be as honest with officers as they possibly can be. If I was in the back seat of your car whispering advice in your ear, I’d probably say at that point, I’d rather not answer that question and ask if you can withdraw your application for admission.”

Sandaluk said it is possible border officers behave differently at different crossings.

“One of the things you have to remember about border officers, Canadian as well as American, is they have vast discretion when it comes to who they stop, who they search and how they examine,” he said.

Canada Border Services Agency said in an email statement it has developed awareness tools to inform travellers of the continued prohibition of the cross-border movement of marijuana.

“Our message on cannabis is simple: don’t take it in, don’t take it out,” said the statement. “It is illegal to bring cannabis in or out of Canada.”

Saunders said he anticipates he’ll see more clients once edible marijuana products and other derivatives become legal in Canada.

READ MORE: Pot price falls 6.4% to $7.37 a gram, legal and illegal prices down: StatCan

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Nisga’a Lisims Government has extended its state of local emergency. (File photo)
Nisga’a state of local emergency extended, vaccines delayed

There are 21 active COVID-19 cases in the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

Terrace continues to have a high rate of COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people, according to this map which shows data from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9. (BC Centre for Disease Control)
Terrace, Nisga’a regions continue to have high rate of COVID-19 cases

Two more exposure notices posted for Terrace schools

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Most Read