US Lifts Ban on Pot Workers, But Travel Rules Remain—For Now

The announcement by the US Customs and Border Protection agency that it will not impede Canadians who work in the rapidly growing cannabis industry from entering the United States for routine leisure or non-business travel suggests an easing of the federal government’s long-standing prohibition of marijuana use and commerce.

The CBP statement, published on its website, reads: “A Canadian citizen working or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S., however if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for a reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

The CBP clarification followed several weeks of speculation about how stringently CBP officers would enforce border restrictions on not only Canadian cannabis workers, but all other Canadian travellers whose own government has permitted them to use, buy, and even travel with a whole range of cannabis- based products—albeit only within Canada’s borders, not internationally.


With states leading the way, will the feds relent?

With a majority of states already allowing marijuana for medical use, and voters in several other states expected to approve some degree of marijuana legalization in November’s congressional elections, it appears to be just a matter of time before America declassifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”) and follows Canada’s lead in, if not embracing, at least tolerating more relaxed cannabis use.

Certainly, to judge by the growing attention Wall Street is paying to the phenomenal growth of Canadian  cannabis production and merchandising companies such as Canopy, Aphria, Aurora, and Cronos—all heavily traded on US as well as Canadian exchanges—turning the clock back to the days of “reefer madness” just isn’t in the cards.


Know the laws—and obey them

But at least for the short term, Canadians bound for the US must take their own government’s sanctions on travelling internationally with cannabis products seriously. It’s not just America’s laws to be heeded, but Canada’s too. And they are clear: if travelling outside of Canada, leave all cannabis products behind, even those devoid of THC—the psychoactive ingredient of the marijuana plant. No exceptions.

So far, there have been various comments by some US border officials—but not official policy statements—that CBP officers at border posts would not necessarily ask inbound travellers if they have ever used cannabis products as grounds for banning their entry. Neither would they necessarily check out cellphones for suspicious online purchases or other indications of use. Media reports have floated many such bizarre possibilities.

But at present, the signs from CBP are that they don’t intend to be overly intrusive—but they will still be vigilant and professional. Travellers should be savvy enough not to expect border agents to avoid their own due diligence in interviewing inbound visitors, inspecting travel bags and cars or RVs. They will still do their job. And they will impose sanctions when and where necessary.


No state legalization challenges expected from Washington

In the long run, or perhaps only the intermediate term, there appears to be no political will in the administration or in Congress to attempt rollbacks of any state-mandated marijuana legalization. And, in fact, President Trump has told some state authorities that he intends to keep his hands off states’ rights in respect to marijuana even though his own attorney general earlier this year threatened to go after violators of existing marijuana laws with whatever the laws allow. This is the same attorney general who has run afoul of the president, very publicly, and is not expected to be on the scene when the new Congress convenes in January and the Trump administration is repopulated.

At present, the integrity of the federal prohibition of marijuana for medical or other use is founded on its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Given the rising amount of clinical evidence to the contrary, that foundation appears vulnerable. And all it takes for marijuana to be reclassified as such is a directive from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Once that happens, there will seem little purpose for border controls on cannabis to be problematic.

But until then, discretion and good sense can be valuable attributes when approaching the US border.

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