Marijuana will be legal for recreational use in Canada on October 17, but despite legalization, Canadians who admit using cannabis could be banned permanently from entering the U.S.
“It’s basically black and white—if you admit to a U.S. border officer at a U.S. port of entry that you’ve smoked marijuana in the past, whether it’s in Canada or the U.S., you will be barred entry for life to the United States,” immigration lawyer Len Saunders told CTV News on Tuesday.
Saunders said he believes U.S. border agents will begin asking the question more frequently once Canada’s new marijuana legislation is implemented later this year. However, Canadians also have the right not to answer the question, he said. Although the questioned individual may be denied entry to the U.S. after refusing to answer, it will only be for that day and not a permanent ban, Saunders explained.
Prior to Ottawa’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis last week, conservative Canadian lawmakers met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. According to reports, Sessions warned the elected officials that Canadians could face problems at the U.S. border if legalization moved forward.
Despite the fact that nine states and the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana—and 29 states have legalized it for medical purposes—cannabis remains completely illegal under U.S. federal law. While the administration of former President Barack Obama implemented guidelines against prosecuting marijuana businesses that were legal on the state level, Sessions has taken a tougher stance.
The Canadian government has warned citizens on its website that legal cannabis use could still cause problems when traveling abroad. “Cannabis is illegal in most countries,” the website said. “Previous use of cannabis, or any other substance prohibited by local law, could result in a traveler being denied entry to their destination country.”
Banned Canadians could still apply for temporary waivers to visit the U.S., according to Saunders. But their visa-free travel access would forever be revoked under current immigration laws.
Commenting on Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana, Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance, told Newsweek it would be bizarre for the U.S. federal government to take a strong stand against the move.
“It would be very hypocritical for the U.S. federal government to come out staunchly against Canada’s legalization and be incredibly vocal about it,” Hetzer said, “because it puts the U.S. government in an uncomfortable position, where it’s still illegal on the federal level [but legal for recreation and medical use in many states].”
Beyond the legal disconnect in the U.S., the majority of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, according to polls. A 2017 poll by Marist and Yahoo News found that 52 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have used cannabis in the past. Additionally, 44 percent admitted that they continue to use the drug. Comparatively, statistics in Canada show that only 49.4 percent of men and 35.8 percent of women admit to having tried pot.
Just over 60 percent of Americans support legalized recreational marijuana, according to a January poll by Pew Research. Likewise, there is growing bipartisan political support for decriminalization and legalization.