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Canada May Have Legalized, But Border Control Still Strict

By Roger Malespin November 5, 2018 Photo/istock/sequential5

By now we’ve all heard the news about Canada legalizing pot for medical and recreational use, but a warning should be issued to those thinking it will be easy to take a trip up north to score some. Northern border control has not changed and will actually be somewhat tougher in the wake of Canada’s legalization. This rule applies on the other side as well, as Canada has a strict no drugs upon entry policy that will not change with the new laws.

In Canada, the law says taking cannabis across the border is illegal - no exceptions. Any cannabis or paraphernalia must be declared at the border. If a person fails to do so, they are open to arrest, and even rosecution and jail time. This was never in question during the legalization proceedings, so anyone who is thinking about trying to enter Canada with anything on them had best think twice. Drug charges could affect a person’s ability to travel across borders for the rest of their lives.

Things have not changed on our side of the border either, and border agents may be even stricter about questioning and entry. The U.S. Border Patrol is a federal law enforcement agency, which means they adhere to the federal statutes on marijuana, not the state ones. So for example, even though marijuana is decriminalized in Washington State, border agents will not let anyone through to it from Canada with weed because it is still illegal at the federal level.

What many people don’t know is that border agents themselves can use a good amount of personal discretion in deciding who gets through. Border agents have an outline of rules to follow, but are allowed to ask their own questions, and based on those personal interactions, have the authority to decide if a person can enter. The new legalization will certainly cause some of those agents to cast a wider net of perceived offenders. There are already Canadian business men and women who will not be allowed across because they are in the cannabis business, legal status notwithstanding.

Additionally, something as simple as past drug use can be grounds for entry prevention. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a conviction. An agent has the right to ask an individual if they have ever done drugs before, and if they answer yes, they are within their rights to deny entry based on the possibility that the person will do drugs again once over the border. This seems like an unfair and ridiculous rule, and it is, but it happens frequently and we should expect it to happen more.

 Border patrol has become more serious over the past couple of decades. At our northern border, where far less crime and drugs come through, the number of agents has increased from 324 in 2001 to 1,845 in 2009. Even though the majority of the approximate 20,000 are on the southern border with Mexico, the Trump administration is looking to hire up to 5,000 more, some of which will certainly be deployed in the north.

So there you have it. Possessing marijuana, smoking marijuana in the past, or even not being a smoker but being involved in a legal cannabis business are all grounds for possible entry prevention. The laws are clear on paper, but the scary part is the freedom individual agents have in the decision. So please, if you are planning a trip to Canada to partake in the new marijuana legalization, make sure you’re up on what can get you into trouble. The consequences could follow you for the rest of your life.