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New state legislation in Washington and Colorado has resulted in the legalization of marijuana in limited capacities. The United States has long taken a very firm stance against illicit drugs of any sort, and so the passing of these state laws may represent a significant shift in marijuana legislation in the United States. Some Canadians, particularly those in British Columbia who share a common border with Washington State, may wish to cross the border in order to take advantage of this new legislation. However, this is a reminder by Pardon Services Canada that marijuana is still very much illegal in the eyes of U.S. federal law, and by extension, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.

Some people, even citizens in the United States, often become confused at the overlap between state and federal laws. Individual states in the U.S. are often given great flexibility in determining their laws, as well as which federal laws they will enforce. This can sometimes result in situations where an act may be fully legal as per state legislation, but illegal as per federal legislation, or vice versa. It’s important to note that, as a federal agency, the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency is governed solely by U.S. federal law. Therefore, the U.S. border guards are well within their right to deny foreigners entry if they believe them to be carrying marijuana, users of marijuana, or are likely to use marijuana anywhere in the United States.

The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency takes the transportation and importation of illegal drugs across the border very seriously, and if you are found with illicit drugs in your vehicle or on your person at the time of crossing, you will be denied entry. Not only that, but you will be barred from entering the United States in the future. The only way to obtain re-entry into the United States is through a United States entry waiver- although this application will likely be denied if sufficient time has not elapsed since the incident. We often recommend that the applicant wait for several years, ideally at least five, before filing for a U.S. Entry Waiver.

Even though this information may be obvious to some, the jurisdictional issues between federal and state law can cause a great deal of confusion when determining what is and what isn’t against U.S. law. Attempts are currently being made by members of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation which would protect states that have legalized marijuana from interference by federal legislation. Tentatively known as the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act, this legislation could allow for more federal tolerance of individual state’s marijuana laws.

For now though, it is very important to remember that marijuana is still an illegal drug in the United States as per federal law, and its use or transportation in the United States will not be tolerated by the U.S. Customs and Border Agency. If you have been denied due to an offence for marijuana or any other drug, we encourage you to contact our offices to discuss the process of a United States entry waiver.

Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency