I've smoked pot in Canada, will it affect my travel plans to the U.S.?
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, September 8, 2016 1:23PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 8, 2016 4:43PM EDT
When Ted Gilliat, 46, attempted to cross the U.S. border on his way to a family picnic in Point Roberts, Washington on Aug. 21, he was denied entry and interrogated for four hours by border officers. So what was his offence? He told the truth.
The Surrey, B.C. man admitted to border officials that he smoked marijuana recreationally in the past. He told CTV Vancouver that, when he was asked if he had ever used or knowingly possessed pot, he said yes. That resulted in his being barred from entering the U.S.
“I should have lied,” he said. “I don’t understand how they can do this… I’m a good, easy going, honest guy.”
Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer based in Toronto, told CTV News Channel on Thursday that the majority of Canadians aren’t asked the types of questions Gilliat was asked.
Gilliat had been caught with 11 grams of marijuana while he was attempting to cross the Canada-US. border on a bicycle in 2005. He was allowed to return to Canada and he never faced any fines or prosecution. In 2011, Gilliat applied to the Customs and Border Protections (CBP) Admissibility Review Office for a September Letter, which states that he was involved in an incident and cleared of any wrongdoing.
On Aug. 19 of this year, when he tried to enter the U.S. without his September Letter, he was refused entry. Gilliat said he had travelled across the border frequently without the papers in the past. His current situation developed two days later on Aug. 21, when he attempted to cross again, this time with his September Letter.
Even though marijuana use is legal in Washington State, it wouldn’t have made a difference for Gilliat. Mamann explained that U.S. immigration law is federal and is therefore applied nationwide. Pot is also a federally-controlled substance in the U.S.
“Regardless of what border points he (Gilliat) tries to enter, he’s still going to have to deal with this at the federal level,” Mamann said. “Regardless of the fact that it (marijuana) may be legal in the state that’s admitting him.”
Gilliat said he regularly visits his in-laws in Point Roberts with his two young daughters. Now, he must go through the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining a travel waiver if he wants to visit the states again. The waiver will cost Gilliat hundreds of dollars and it is only temporary. He will have to apply for a new one once his current one expires. For now, Gilliat has no choice but to sit tight and stay in B.C.
“I would be going down to Point Roberts this afternoon to fly kites [with my daughters] instead,” he said.
Gilliat may not have to stay in B.C. for too long, however. The Liberal government intends to introduce new marijuana legislation in the spring of 2017. Mamann believes the Canadian government needs to work with the U.S. on updating border security to reflect Canada’s changing marijuana laws.
“This is too bureaucratic. It’s overreaching and it offends common sense,” he said.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould addressed the issue.
“I think we’ll be able to make the case effectively to the United States, that the regime that we’re putting in place in Canada at the national level will be more effective than the one they’ve got,” Goodale said.
Raybould also clarified that, until the new laws are enacted, Canadians are expected to follow the ones currently in place.
“Until we have legalized and put a regulatory framework around marijuana, the law is still the law,” she said.
What should you do when asked about marijuana at the border?
Mamann told CTV News Channel that you have three options to consider if you’re asked about your controlled substance use at the U.S. border.
1. Tell the truth
Mamann said that if you admit to marijuana use, you could face a situation, similar to Gilliat’s, in which you are considered inadmissible and must apply for a waiver every time you visit the U.S.
If you choose to lie about your past pot use, Mamann warns that the consequences can be harsh if you’re caught. You could face a five-year ban and your immigration record will always show that you lied.
3. Refuse to answer
If you refuse to answer questions at the border, Mamann said the officers will likely refuse you entry to the U.S. Despite this, he said that out of the three options, it might be your safest choice. There could still be consequences, however, such as the officers using your silence as a reason to search your belongings, or their suspecting you of possessing a controlled substance during future border crossings.