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

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, updates British Columbians about COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week. (B.C. Government image)
B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 confirmed a year ago today

Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the province’s fight against the novel coronavirus

In September 2018, former Vancouver Canucks player Dave Babych tees off at Northview Golf & Country Club in Surrey during the 35th annual Jake Milford Charity Invitational tournament. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
No ‘shotguns’ or banquets: Surrey golf courses pitch COVID-safe tournaments for 2021

With spring on the way, course operators book tournaments that will involve ‘tweaks and adjustments’

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $420,570 in grants for local arts, culture groups

This happened at Monday night’s council meeting, to cover 2021

Surrey native Dylan Kinley, shown here with the Douglas College Royals, has signed with the UFV Cascades. (Douglas Royals photo)
UFV Cascades sign Surrey native Dylan Kinley

Tweedsmuir grad, Douglas Royals star joins Abbotsford-based team for 2021-22

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

A lone passenger stands outside the International Arrivals area at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on foreign arrivals, Health Canada data suggest a growing number of infections directly connected to international travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Holiday season vacations coincide with rise in COVID-19 travel-related cases

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 27, 86,953 people flew into Canada from the United States

Gov.Gen Julie Payette walks in the chamber after greeting Senators before delivering the Speech from the Throne, at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Report details yelling, screaming and aggressive conduct at Rideau Hall under Payette

Report says employees did not feel they had a place to go with their complaints

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple accused of flying to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine to appear in court

If convicted, the pair could serve up to six months in jail

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)
University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Vancouver Island woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny rescue operation

Amy McLaughlin has rescued more than 400 bunnies, pushing for the capacity to help more

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Most Read