The State of U.S. and Canadian Cannabis-related Immigration Policies

Although some states within the U.S. allow for the recreational and medical use of cannabis, the regulation of the product is nonetheless under high scrutiny—especially when it involves the border. 

Canadian business owners who are in the cannabis industry are also affected; they, too, are being put under high scrutiny. In 2018, a Canadian investor was issued a lifetime entry ban into the U.S. based on the reasoning that he was part of the cannabis industry. 

The investor was traveling to Las Vegas for the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo. In addition to investors, the event encompassed several types of stakeholders that ranged from lenders, lobbyists, and cannabis producer executives, to entrepreneurs. 

This was not the only case of a Canadian being heavily scrutinized due to U.S. laws. Roderick Elliot, who was on his way to the same event, got held up at the border and faced a second screening. Elliot worked at one of the largest public affairs firms in Canada, Global Public Affairs, and he was asked several questions about his association with the cannabis industry. 

In an interview conducted by the Financial Post, Elliot recalled the incident. “The first border guard asked us specifically why we were going to be in Las Vegas, and when we said we would be dropping by at the Marijuana Business Conference, he said ‘I’m going to need you to come with me,’” he stated.

Elliot then recalled that he and his colleague were led to a room consisting of 10 other individuals going to the same cannabis event. He said that everyone in the room was prohibited from using their cellphones and talking. 

“I am a big supporter of secure borders,” Elliot added. “But these border guards were deliberately slowing down the process. It struck me that this was a fairly unnecessary measure, and they could have dealt with it in a much quicker way.”

Back in May 2018, another Canadian individual was issued a lifetime ban into the U.S. Sam Znaimer, who was based in Vancouver, was investing in cannabis startups that happen to be in the U.S. When he was at the border, he was interrogated and banned in just four hours. 

Len Saunders, who is an immigration lawyer, noted the contradiction between Canadian policies and U.S border regulations when it comes to the cannabis industry. 

“Look, the Americans have already said that any foreigners involved with the cannabis industry can be denied entry and barred for life,” Saunders told the Financial Post. “Now you have the Canadian government advising people to tell the truth at the border. But I’m saying, it’s much better to say nothing — you will be denied entry, not given a lifetime ban. You don’t have to say anything at the border.”

As the Canadian cannabis industry grows and investors are looking to network within the U.S., border laws and policies must be taken into close consideration. At the time of writing this post, U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to uphold and enforce its laws regardless of Canada’s legalized sale of cannabis. 


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