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Cannabis Users, Investors and Workers Could Risk Lifetime U.S. Border Ban

By Alexander Beadle
Published: Sep 24, 2018   
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Canada is now under a month away from becoming the first major industrialized country to legalize recreational cannabis use nationwide. The creation of a legal cannabis market is projected to give Canada a large economic boost amounting up to $23 billion annually. Naturally, entrepreneurs and investors have been eyeing up this potentially lucrative opportunity, but recent statements from U.S. border officials are stirring up concern for the industry.

Despite over 30 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico having some form of legalized or decriminalized cannabis use legislation on the books, federally, cannabis still remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance. As federal law dictates the action of the border agents, many senior U.S. border officials are warning Canadians involved in their nation’s cannabis industry that they could face significant challenges in crossing the border, despite twelve of the thirteen border states having some sort of legal cannabis law.

Troubles at the border

These warnings from border officials are not empty words; there are already several recorded instances of cannabis industry professionals encountering problems at the border. In July, a Vancouver businessman was stopped at the border and barred entry to the U.S. for life after revealing that he had investments in legal American cannabis companies.

Three months prior to this incident, Jay Evans, the CEO of the agricultural equipment manufacturer Keirton Inc., and two of his engineers were traveling to the U.S. for a design meeting with an American agricultural company. The three Canadian men were given lifetime bans from entering the United States after one of the engineers mentioned during routine questioning that the design they were working on was intended to be of use to cannabis cultivators.

“We had not yet designed the product, we had not yet marketed the product and we’d not yet sold the product,” said Evans in an interview with The Star Vancouver.

“The border guard supervisor told me he felt really bad and felt it wasn’t right, and had a lot of empathy toward us,” Evans explained. Evans and his colleagues hold no resentment towards the border officers who issued the lifetime bans - the men feel they were simply doing their jobs - but with the October 17 target for Canadian cannabis legalization looming ever nearer, there is a worry that the number of cases like Evans’ will continue to grow.

Dealing with border officers

No matter the legal status of the cannabis industry in Canada, until the U.S. federally reschedules cannabis to a less serious designation, the U.S. cannot recognize the cannabis industry as a viable legal business. This means that all people who are involved in the cannabis industry in any way, from cannabis users to cultivators, growers, and investors, will run the risk of being served a similar ban while trying to cross the border.

Todd Owen, the executive assistant commissioner for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency’s Office of Field Operations, spoke to Politico to explain the expectations of his border officers, and how the topic of cannabis use or industry involvement will be approached.

“Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there — or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” Owen said. If you are asked about your drug use or associations with the cannabis industry, Owen advises travelers to always be honest about their associations. “If you work for the industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility,” Owen explains. “If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban.”

Admitting to past use of cannabis, or current investment or employment in the industry will automatically make a traveler unable to enter the United States. At this point, the traveler is given the option to “voluntarily withdraw” from the border zone or else face an “expedited removal” at the hands of the border officers. Those who are issued with lifetime bans can apply after-the-fact to the Customs and Border Protection Agency for a waiver of the ban, but these can cost in excess of $500 and take several months to process; they are also at the complete discretion of the Agency, so approval is not guaranteed.

Limitations for travelers

There has been no mention of any minimum levels of investment that could trigger a travel ban for business people who are involved in the industry, implying that even a very small amount could be deemed worthy of such a measure. Similarly, there does not seem to be any exceptions made for those who are prescribed cannabis to treat medical conditions.

Due to the nature of their employment, cannabis plant workers, testers, and distributors also appear to be at risk from these bans, even if they have never consumed the drug themselves: in the eyes of the U.S law, they are viewed to be profiting from an “illegal” industry.

Currently, 1 in 8 Canadians admit to having used cannabis products at some point in their lives, and with the advent of legal recreational cannabis, this statistic is likely to rise. With around 42 million trips being made by Canadians across the U.S. border annually, it remains to be seen how this affects the wait times and general ease of crossing for the average traveler.


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