FACT CHECK: Can Canadians Be Denied Entry into the US If They Admit to Past Cannabis Use?
Updated: Oct 26, 2018
TRUE. The law gives the US full right to deny or ban anyone who admits to having smoked marijuana in Canada at any point.
Last week, recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada; in some US states, it’s been legal since 2012. However, cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug at the federal level in the United States, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Because of this, there’s been some confusion about what legalization means at the Canada–US border. It's been reported that some people, especially those with medical marijuana licences, think that because cannabis is now legal in Canada and in some states, they won't be penalized for admitting to having used it in the past.
Last week, Global News, the Los Angeles Times, and, more recently, the Washington Examiner reported that travellers will be scrutinized at the border regardless of the legal standing of marijuana in their country and that anyone who admits to using marijuana is at risk of being denied entry or banned from the US. This is true: though no one is guaranteed to be denied entry or to be banned, according to the government of Canada, the law gives the US full right to deny or ban anyone who admits to having smoked marijuana in Canada at any point.
Border crossings into the US from Canada are controlled by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which abides by federal law. Regardless of where you cross the border into the United States, marijuana is considered an illegal substance—past usage, as Global News reported, could be taken into consideration by a border officer as an indicator of whether you’re likely to engage in marijuana use in the US. According to a statement by CBP in September, “determinations about admissibility and whether any regulatory or criminal enforcement is appropriate are made by a CBP officer based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time”—which means that a border officer can ask a broad range of questions to anyone crossing the border, including about past marijuana consumption.
Even travelling into the US for business related to the cannabis industry—regardless of past consumption—could result in denied entry according to CBP or, as reported by CTV News and Politico, a lifetime ban from the country.
There is some leeway, however. In its September statement, CBP explained that probing into past usage is discretionary—an individual who crosses the border frequently enough may notice that some border officers won’t ask about past usage while others might. In an appearance on the CBC’s Power and Politics in June, Canadian public-safety minister Ralph Goodale said that border officers would only ask further questions about marijuana use if “some behaviour or some aroma” or other indicators made them suspicious.