If you have ever been convicted of marijuana possession, you may already know that you need a waiver to enter the States. However, did you know that you can face problems for simply admitting marijuana use in the past?
Admitting marijuana use at the border is becoming a growing problem for a lot of Canadian residents. Increasingly, agents are asking visitors if they have ever used marijuana. Many people, believing that it’s no big deal, readily confess. That’s when the problems start.
- A medical marijuana user admitted to smoking marijuana before Canada had a medical use program and was banned permanently from the US.
- A German resident of Canada who’s intending to immigrate one day, was held in detention for a month and deported to Germany for admitting to marijuana use.
- A music writer was held handcuffed in a detention room and ultimately banned for life for admitting to marijuana use.
- A young woman on her way to a concert in Washington State was banned for life after admitting to a border guard that she had used marijuana in the past.
One can’t blame the travelers for answering honestly. For one thing, no one wants to lie to a border guard. For another thing, in all of these cases, the travelers were entering Washington State where recreational marijuana is legal. Moreover, Canada has already legalized the medical use of marijuana and a recreational bill is on the way.
However, border agents are federal employees. This means they follow federal law, not state law.
What can you do to avoid the admitting marijuana use ban?
The worst thing you can do is to lie to a border guard. They may have other ways of finding out the facts even if you don’t end up admitting marijuana use. You could be banned for five years or even life.
Pack carefully: If you are travelling to the US, leave things behind that might suggest a lifestyle involving marijuana use. No one wants to feel like they are censoring themselves or hiding who they are. However, in at least two cases, the border guards were tipped off by personal items like a magazine and a wallet that had a “weed money” label. Clean out your car and don’t pack things like:
- Marijuana books and magazines
- Drug paraphernalia
- T-shirts or other marijuana related clothing or personal items.
Clean up your online presence: If you are associated with marijuana use in your Google search results or there are photos and other shared materials online in your social media accounts, you might want to remove these items. Keep in mind that border guards can ask for your phone and social passwords. You might want to wipe images and emails from your phone and remove your social media apps. You can always download these later.
Don’t admit to marijuana tourism: If you are visiting states like Washington, Oregon and Colorado for the purpose of trying out recreational marijuana, you may not want to admit this. Simply say you are shopping or sightseeing. When border agents ask you the purpose of your trip they are more likely to be trying to ascertain whether you are a tourist or a business traveler and if you have a valid reason for travel.
Don’t answer the question: While you don’t want to lie to a border agent, you can simply refuse to answer the question. You can still be refused entry. However, you likely won’t receive a permanent ban because there is no proof that you used marijuana. Nevertheless, be prepared to be detained and searched before you are turned around. Also keep in mind that they may give you a hard time the next time you try to cross… and the next time! Of course, this is not an ideal situation, especially if you are crossing for an expensive all-inclusive vacation, a $100-a-ticket concert or to catch a flight. However, it’s still better than a permanent ban.
Withdraw your application to enter: If you don’t like the way the questioning is going, you may want to tell them you are withdrawing your application to enter. You can still be searched and detained if you are on US soil. However, some international airports in Canada have preclearance for travelers to the US.
Lobby the government: The Liberal government stated last fall that they would look into this problem. In fact, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the situation “ludicrous.” However, the US Democrats were defeated and, since then, the Canadian government has had bigger problems to worry about, such as the future of NAFTA. The legalization of marijuana next year may encourage the government to make this a bigger priority.
What if you have a ban?
If you are told by a border agent that you are banned from the United States for admitting marijuana use, you will need to apply for a US Entry Waiver. The waiver is issued from six months to five years. It’s possible that in a situation where you have no criminal record, the Department of Homeland Security would simply send you a letter stating you don’t need a waiver. However, this is a long shot and you will have to apply first to find out.
If you have been told that you are permanently banned from the United States either with or without a criminal record, we can help. Contact us today to review your situation at 1-866-972-7366.