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Travelling Abroad? You Can’t Take Canada’s Cannabis with You

Canada’s marijuana legalization has attracted international media headlines the way few other Canadian actions have in recent memory—much more newsworthy than its freeing up of marijuana for medical purposes several years ago.

And, as might be expected, the October 17 enactment of the new pot laws has spawned hugely speculative and grossly sensational alarms about what Canadians (including snowbirds) might expect when crossing over into the US this coming winter season.

Let’s first establish one point above all: Canada’s legalization of cannabis is a domestic issue. It is applicable in Canada only. It has no impact on any other country’s laws or rules. In time it may certainly influence what other countries do—but not yet.

The Canadian government is quite clear when it warns that “carrying any cannabis or cannabis product (legal or illegal) across Canada’s border will remain a serious criminal offence, with individuals convicted of engaging in such activities liable for prosecution.”

And we must emphasize: that warning includes any cannabis products, even ones legally prescribed by  physicians for  residents of Canada under Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). Such use is legal in Canada—not in the US, and as yet not in most other countries.

All countries maintain sovereignty over their customs and border admission laws—that is as true for the United States as it is for Britain, Italy, France, Romania, Russia, and on and on, even Canada.

In the US, the Drug Enforcement Administration has ruled that any and all cannabis products, even those without THC (tetrahydrocannabinol—the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), are considered Schedule 1 Controlled Substances and can’t legally be brought into the country. And that includes any of the thousands of CBD (cannabidiol) products now being sold over the counter in the form of cookies, gummies, beverages, oils, or tinctures that have become some of the Internet’s biggest sellers—many of which are even derived from industrial hemp.

It is true that many states have either decriminalized or outright legalized marijuana use—some only for medical purposes; others, like California or Colorado, for recreational purposes too. In those states you can be guided by those laws, but you can’t bring similar products with you from Canada across the US border.

 

Don’t argue with border agents

And definitely do not try explaining to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that the CBD gummies you take for your bad back are devoid of THC, or the cannabis medication you need for your fibromyalgia is prescribed by your physician and you have an ACMPR document to prove it.

To date, US border authorities have not given any sign they are going to get out drug-sniffing dogs to hunt down “smugglers” of cannabis-infused cookies. CBP agents have a tough job, and no one in this administration is anxious to throw up any further impediments to allowing law-abiding Canadians to enjoy their vacations.

But don’t tempt fate. Don’t create a situation where the CBP agent can’t help but ask if you have ever used marijuana, are you a current user, or do you have any cannabis products or medications with you. Leave such products behind. Don’t put yourself in the position of being tempted to lie or shade the truth. It can lead to serious consequences such as being barred from entry, or worse.

 

Support your local merchants

If you’re traveling to a state—such as Florida, California, or Nevada—where cannabis products for medical use are legally available, you might be able to get what you need without breaking any laws.

At present, cannabis dispensaries are quite common in many states and they can assist in getting you connected with a legitimate doctor who can first assess you and then prescribe an appropriate cannabis medication, perhaps similar to what you have been taking at home. Nothing illegal about that. There are plenty of websites to guide you. Just be perfectly sure that when you return home, you leave that cannabis (whatever its form) behind and do not take it into Canada—because that is clearly illegal by Canadian law.

Despite what you may have seen in much of the media, there is little appetite by this administration to use Canada’s legalization of cannabis as a flare gun in the NAFTA or trade negotiations dragging on between the two countries. In fact, President Trump has explicitly told several state governors who have legalized cannabis use in their jurisdictions that his administration would not oppose or impede their actions or overstep their state rights. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions once tried to do that, but he walked back that threat soon enough.

To borrow an idea from a Leonard Cohen song, “legalization is comin’… to the USA.” Albeit slowly.

Until then, know the rules and abide by them.


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