LOS ANGELES – As national cannabis legalization begins, the Canadian government is concerned enough about confusion among the public regarding international travel with cannabis products that it has issued a public service announcement reminding everyone (but especially Americans) that even after October 17, 2018, “it remains illegal to take cannabis or any product containing cannabis across Canada’s international borders.”
The warnings are no doubt warranted. With recent reports that airport police now permit travelers over 21 to carry legal amounts of cannabis in their carry-ons through LAX, would anyone be surprised if a certain percentage of people assumed that starting tomorrow they could bring cannabis from L.A. to anywhere in Canada without anyone giving a hoot?
The answer, of course, is no, and Canada is doing what it can to educate the public on the law in order to avoid too many situations where its border officers are forced to charge otherwise law-abiding travelers with “serious criminal penalties” for bringing cannabis into the country by plane, train, car, horse, or foot, and failing to declare it at the border.
“It is illegal to bring cannabis into Canada,” the government states unambiguously on its website. “If you do have cannabis or products containing cannabis with you when you enter Canada, you must declare them to the Canada Border Services Agency. If you do not declare cannabis products when you enter Canada, you can face enforcement action, including arrest and prosecution.”
Unfortunately, traveling cross-border with cannabis is not the only concern facing travelers who also have invested in a cannabis company, a number that has undoubtedly increased as interest in cannabis stocks has exploded in recent months. Word that the United States would deny entry to any such investors had the potential to chill investment significantly.
However, for better and worse, U.S. policy was recently tweaked in a bizarrely Catch–22 manner that now allows investors and people who work in the industry to enter the country, but only if it is for work unrelated to the industry. Entering for work related to the industry remains categorically prohibited for those working in the industry.
Specifically, the policy states, “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 traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
The Canadian government responded to a handful of questions we had about cannabis, international travel, and other issues related to Canadian legalization. The Q&A, which was conducted via email, is reprinted here in its entirety:
MG: What prompted the issuance of the PSA?
Canada: Cannabis use will become legal across Canada on October 17, 2018. Washington and British Columbia are close friends and partners, with eight million people crossing the border last year. As of October 17, recreational marijuana will be legal on both sides of the border, but the rules at the border will not change. We want to ensure that travelers are aware that it will remain illegal to transport cannabis across the border to ensure that there are no slowdowns at the border.
The PSA is obviously directed at everyday travelers, and not your professional drug smuggler, right?
The second highest passenger car crossing and fourth busiest commercial crossing of the U.S.-Canada border is in Blaine, WA. We want people to know that they shouldn’t cross the border with cannabis. We want to ensure that the smooth flow of people and goods continues, with no slowdowns at the border.
Do you anticipate most people bringing cannabis from the U.S. to Canada, or the other way around?
At this point, we are simply trying to ensure that the public knows that they shouldn’t cross the border with cannabis.
What sort of penalties can people really expect to face if they’re caught bringing personal amounts of cannabis into Canada and forget to announce them? Will first-timers be let off with a warning?
The Canada Border Services Agency will have strict penalties for individuals attempting to cross into Canada with cannabis products. The unauthorized international cross-border movement of cannabis remains a serious criminal offense, and will be subject to enforcement up to and including criminal investigation and prosecution (which could result in a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for conviction on indictment). This will be the case even if a traveler is entering Canada from places that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis, such as Washington or Alaska. Transporting cannabis used for medical purposes will also remain illegal.
We are also advising anyone traveling from Canada to the United States that previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that the traveler is denied entry to the U.S., and subject to legal prosecution and fines, and possibly jail time. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently updated their guidance to clarify that individuals connected to Canada’s legal cannabis industry can travel to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the cannabis industry, but they could be found inadmissible if they’re coming for reasons related to the cannabis industry.
LAX is now allowing people over 21 to travel through the airport with to up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana. Are your efforts in part to deal with those sorts of new freedoms?
Our efforts are based on the reality that in Canada, the current approach to cannabis has not worked. Despite nearly a century of strict criminal prohibition of cannabis supported by substantial law enforcement resources, cannabis use is widespread and relatively commonplace, and is easily available across Canada. Through strict regulation of the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis and strong penalties for those who break the law, the Government aims to restrict youth access to cannabis and deter criminal activity.
Regardless of the way cannabis is being treated in different jurisdictions in the U.S., it remains illegal to take it across the U.S.-Canada border whether crossing by air, land or water.
Is the U.S. cooperating with Canada in any way to deal with upcoming legalization?
The Canadian government studied the experiences of jurisdictions such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado in developing Canada’s approach to cannabis legalization and regulation, in order to learn lessons and best practices. As a close partner and good neighbor, we have kept U.S. authorities up to date on the initiative to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis and we continue to work with the U.S. Government to discuss and mitigate any issues that may stem from the legalization of cannabis, particularly at the border. The Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will continue to work with their counterparts in the U.S. to uphold laws governing the illegal cross-border movement of cannabis and other drugs. In addition, Canada will establish a monitoring framework that will, among other things, seek to identify any noteworthy trends related to illegal import and export activity following legalization to inform our government’s future policy decisions in this area.
The subject of investors in cannabis being denied entry to the U.S. or otherwise harassed is a very serious matter for a new industry. Is there anything the government of Canada can do other than education to ameliorate the situation?
We continue to work with the U.S. Government to discuss and mitigate any issues that may stem from the legalization of cannabis, including discussion with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.