A New Frontier: Canadians in Cannabis at the Border

by | Sep 25, 2018

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Cross-border travel for Canadians working in or with the booming cannabis industry is about to get complicated. In fact, for many, it's already complicated. The dichotomy between our two countries stance on legal marijuana is a cause for concern among many in our industry. Will our chosen livelihoods in Canada determine our future in the United States?

It's already proven challenging for some. Sam Znaimer, a Canadian businessman, made national headlines in July after authorities not only refused him entry but permanently banned from the US due to his investments in the sector. There have since been more rumblings, that others with connections to the industry, however tenuous, are facing similar challenges.

In a recent statement, a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office said  “Working or having involvement in the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect an individual’s admissibility to the U.S.” Is this really the future for cross-border travel for Canadians legally working with and within the marijuana sector?

What We Know So Far

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has indicated they will not change their policies around admittance into the US, no matter how drug laws vary within Canada.

CBP has a right to ask Canadians seeking entrance into the U.S. about their line of work, as well as if they are traveling on business. They also have the right to ask about historic drug use.

In a Catch-22, lying to the CBP can also lead you to trouble. If discovered, you may be refused entry, or banned permanently. Lying to a border officer is a federal offense.

CBP has the right to conduct a search of any persons and their property (including vehicle, and electronic devices) without a warrant and without reasonable suspicion.

Under current protocols, when searching electronic devices, they are restricted to local data only. Anything stored online, or in the cloud is deemed off limits, although enforcement is difficult

When searching through your electronic devices, the CBP will likely request passwords, much like they would request entry of a locked trailer or trunk. If you refuse to provide, this is grounds for refusal of entry or permanent ban.

The Patriot Act gives the CBP authority to access your personal credit card data, although it is not clear if this has been used or will be used to access data about cannabis-related purchases.

If you are traveling to a state with open marijuana laws, do not attempt to cross the Canada-U.S. border with any cannabis. Cannabis is a Schedule I drug under US federal law, and exportation is prohibited under Canadian law.

What We Do Not Know

How much do US Border officials already know about your business dealings? Today, it's unclear what data is shared between countries with regards to cannabis. Many Canadians have concerns about how the federal and provincial governments plan to protect consumer data. With each province responsible for the rollout of inner-province retail, both online and in-person sales are a cause for concern.

Consumers are understandably worried about this new treasure trove of potentially damaging data will be protected for Canadians who travel abroad. There are also concerns about data sharing between agencies. Will the U.S. pressure Canadian governments to release sensitive personal data on their citizens under the guise of a national security threat?

Many of the border stories from those currently in the industry indicate a haphazard application of the law from border agents. For example, Jordan Sinclair, a spokesman for Canopy Growth, has told reporters he has never had issues at the border, despite being honest about his employer. Others, like Sam Znaimer, who are only peripherally associated with the cannabis industry have been banned for life.

It could be that CBP officers are targeting those who have links to cannabis businesses in the U.S. Officers may consider even a cross-border investment aiding and abetting a prohibited industry. This theory remains to be proven. The inconsistent application of U.S. law at the border may just come down to the individual applying it.

Over the coming months, there is bound to be a rise in border issues for Canadians with links to the cannabis sector. If you work out the numbers, 16 percent of Canadians already consume cannabis, and there are on average 400,000 border crossings a day. That’s at least 64,000 people with a history of cannabis use that cross into the U.S daily. As consumption of the product and employment in the industry will likely increase once Oct 17th rolls around, Canadians are going to face challenges, but hopefully changes to U.S. border policy.