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.

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Secondary School in Creston

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for Prince Charles Secondary School

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
MP Morrison appointed to parliamentary national security committee

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian one of five candidates appointed to national security committee

Repaving of Victoria Ave (3rd St. S. to 11th St. S.) began on Monday, June 12. Drivers are asked to please avoid the area for the remainder of the day, if possible. Please watch for and obey directions from flaggers and signage, as the detours will be moving regularly. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Road construction, repaving programs well underway

Local road construction and repaving work continue apace, as summer programs get… Continue reading

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the two patients, a man and a woman likely acquired the virus in the hospital

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby attend opening of the first government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, Kamloops, Oct. 19, 2018. (B.C. government)
B.C. government to allow home cannabis delivery starting July 15

Added convenience expected to persuade buyers to ‘go legal’

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

(Black Press Media stock photo)
RCMP name 2015 homicide victim near Creston, investigation ongoing

26-year-old Clint Wolfleg was found dead in a private residence on May 31, 2015

Most Read