Canadian pot industry workers will be able to enter U.S. for pleasure travel

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says Canadian citizens working in the cannabis industry should be able to enter the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry.

The agency updated its website Tuesday, providing a measure of clarity after a vague statement last month left the industry and investors facing uncertainty about travel of any kind to the U.S.

That statement sparked weeks of confusion and rumours that those tied to the cannabis industry could face lifetime bans from the U.S.

It read that “As marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S.” 

It’s been updated to say that for travel unrelated to the industry, these same people will “generally” be allowed into the U.S.

“A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S., however, if a traveller is found to be coming to the U.S. for a reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible,” the statement reads.

The border agency has not said whether Canadians who admit to having legally consumed cannabis on this side of the border may be turned away or face bans from entering the U.S. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

With legalization just days away on Oct. 17, the statement provides some clarity for the thousands of Canadians now working in the cannabis industry who have been left wondering if they’ll ever again be able to take their kids to Disneyland or flee Canadian winters for warmer U.S. destinations. 

However, the updated statement makes no mention of whether Canadians who admit to having legally consumed cannabis on this side of the border may be turned away or face bans from entering the U.S.

It does, however, make the point that anyone arriving in the U.S. who is found to be a drug abuser or who is convicted of violations of U.S. or foreign drug laws or regulations will be considered inadmissible.

Henry Chang, a partner at Toronto law firm Blaney McMurtry, said in an email to CBC this update is a “more reasonable” approach, but still leaves some uncertainties.

Chang, who specializes in cross-border issues, said it’s unclear what activities would be considered unrelated to the marijuana industry, including whether going to a cannabis conference would be allowed, for example. 

Wiggle room

“Overall, this is a step in the right direction but the line is still not clearly drawn yet.”

Matt Maurer, a lawyer with Toronto firm Torkin Manes and vice-chair of the Cannabis Law Group, said he believes that while the update is helpful, it’s worded to “give themselves some wiggle room.” Phrases such as “will generally be admissible” allow room for interpretation, he said.

Still, Maurer said the update provides welcome news for pot industry workers.

“I treat this as a pretty clear signal that if you work in the cannabis industry in Canada, and you’re coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to your work, they’re not going to have an issue with it, and they are going to let you in. Or they won’t refuse you on that ground alone.”

Practices will evolve

Border Security Minister Bill Blair told CBC News last month that although “possession of cannabis is legal in some U.S. states, cannabis remains illegal under U.S. federal law.” He warned Canadians travelling south that they need to respect U.S. laws.

Maurer points out that as more U.S. states legalize cannabis, U.S. customs practices will continue to evolve.

In Michigan, Missouri, Utah and North Dakota voters will decide on various levels of marijuana legalization during the November midterm elections.

Recreational marijuana is currently legal under state law in nine states, while medical marijuana is legal in 30 states.

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