Canada became the second country in the world to legalize marijuana after Uruguay. While the act has been planned since Justin Trudeau took office, the nationwide legalization process was finalized just last month. As per Canada’s new federal cannabis act, adults are allowed to have up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, which is enough to roll 60 joints. Every adult will also be allowed a maximum of four marijuana plants in their household as long as it is out of public view, in most provinces.
According to a Statistics Canada report released in 2017, an estimated 4.9 million people used cannabis in a single year, including both medical and non-medical use. As noted by an article published in The Guardian, one of Justin Trudeau’s election promises was to legalize cannabis, saying the move would “cut the estimated C$6 billion ($4.5 billion USD) in profits pouring into the black market.”
While Trudeau’s promise has been kept and marijuana has been legalized, hopefully keeping profits in legal markets, there are many questions remaining about criminal charges, both in Canada and abroad. For instance, many people are concerned over marijuana prosecutions which occurred under the previous legal system, with more than 15,000 people having been charged for marijuana-related offenses since Trudeau’s 2015 election. Will the record or sentence of those who were criminalized be expunged?
Meanwhile, Canada’s marijuana legalization is also causing ripples across the border in the U.S. According to a Statista report, approximately 14.33 million United States citizens traveled to Canada in 2017. With all of that traffic, it would seem that U.S.-Canada tourism is doing quite well — and it is. However, there’s one major area that may pose a variety of sticky situations for those involved in the U.S.-Canada tourism industry — marijuana.
According to a Business insider article, marijuana legalization is sweeping the U.S., with 10 states and Washington DC having made recreational use legal for adults over 21 years of age. However, the U.S. is far from national acceptance, with marijuana still being illegal at the federal level and left to individual states to enforce.
This dynamic presents two unique issues: one for U.S. travelers to Canada, and another for Canadian travelers to the U.S, both having to do with the U.S.-Canadian border.
As a Forbes article recently noted, Canadians who admit to marijuana use or marijuana-related industry work — even though it is completely legal in Canada — may be barred entry to the U.S. As the article further states, gaining access upon admission may be difficult “because the use or possession of marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law and admitting to smoking marijuana in the past is therefore the equivalent of admitting to violating the federal law.” Furthermore, any past convictions related to marijuana may have previously been shared with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, meaning that despite new law, Canadians with a history of marijuana prosecution may be barred due to the lapse between current law and potentially slower border recordkeeping.
While the best advice for Canadians entering the U.S. may be to avoid mentioning marijuana, the situation is a lot more complicated for U.S. citizens. For those entering Canada with marijuana pursuits in mind, remember that US Customs is playing by the rules of the federal government, not any individual U.S. state. That means that even if marijuana is legal in an individual’s state, they may get denied entry to Canada for mentioning intended marijuana use due to federal law enforcement.
For U.S. citizens who go to Canada, buy some legal marijuana and return to the U.S., the situation is serious. Due to marijuana being federally illegal, those caught at the border with any amount of marijuana may be subject to arrest and prosecution. This applies to bringing it back via pocket, car, boat or airplane. It is irrelevant if the destination state in the U.S. has legalized marijuana. According to an article in Global News, offenders can face up to 14 years in Canadian prison for the act of attempting to border-cross with Canadian marijuana.
Once in the country, if found with marijuana, even if bought in Canada legally, the act of having it becomes illegal in some states. Just as an example, marijuana possession laws in Arizona, as reported in an article by Jackson White Attorneys at Law, state that marijuana cannot be: used/possessed, had with intent to sell, produced or transported within or into Arizona. In this instance, bringing Canadian marijuana into Arizona would not only break the federal law upon U.S. entry, but it would break the use/possess law and the transport law within the state. If found with marijuana, a U.S. citizen could face possession charges which could have serious jail time attached.
One wonders how long possession charges may continue on for U.S. citizens considering the continued legalization of marijuana at the state levels. How many U.S. states will it take in order to turn the federal tide? Will it happen before U.S.-Canadian tourism is impacted? It seems only a matter of time before the necessary changes occur. Marijuana legalization, driven both by Canada’s lead and U.S. citizen demand, seems to be just a matter of when.
Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.