On both sides of some areas of the U.S.-Canada border, cannabis is legal for adult use, but that doesn’t mean you can take cannabis through customs of an international border. Don’t even think about it—because officials from both sides say they won’t tolerate it and it can still get you into serious trouble.
Canada is opening their border to vaccinated American travelers beginning on August 9, but despite cannabis being legal for adult use in New York state and Canada, it’s still illegal to take it between the two countries. It’s the same story in ports of entry in Washington state, Michigan, Maine and other areas.
Travelers must have received their vaccine at least 14 days before arriving at the border. Next, they must provide all COVID-19 related information electronically through the ArriveCAN app or web portal. Finally, travelers must have physical proof of vaccination (i.e. a paper card) to present at the border.
Canada has a Border Problem
It’s easy to forget a passport, or even worse, forget that you have weed in the car when there isn’t much time to turn the car around. But if you get caught with weed, you will almost certainly be denied entry to the U.S., regardless of state-legal medical cards, and could be given a ticket or arrested at their discretion.
Mike Niezgoda is a public affairs officer with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and said there have been a number of smuggling cases even though cannabis is legal on both sides.
“We had an incursion that came via helicopter that landed in Grand Island, just north of Buffalo,” Niezgoda told WXXI News. In 2019. Border Patrol agents recovered four duffel bags carrying a total of more than 100 pounds of cannabis with an estimated street value of more than $100,000.
But Niezgoda sees smaller infractions happen more often—unintended smuggling because people have cannabis in their cars and forget about it. “Say they went to Toronto to go up to see the Maple Leafs play the Sabres, they bought some marijuana, and then they forgot about it and then came back and they realized it right when they saw the booth,” he said.
That could result in potentially serious charges, because U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents default to federal law.
What to Do if You Have Cannabis at a Canada Port of Entry
When Canada first legalized cannabis, the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of public safety told Canadians that they should “be honest and tell the truth” when asked if they’ve smoked weed at the U.S.-Canada border.
But U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can ban you from entering the United States even for admitting that you’re there to smoke cannabis and party. For this reason, an immigration lawyer told Vice that he recommends being silent about plans to smoke weed when crossing the border.
Having cannabis in the car could be worse. The best thing to do is to just pay attention to what’s in your car and prevent accidental smuggling charges. In some ports of entry, there are places where you can do a U-turn and find a place to dispose of cannabis. “It depends on the port of entry,” Niezgoda said. “Some ports of entry have areas where they could U-turn and some do not.”
If travelers are caught throwing a bag of weed out the window, officials say that they face littering charges on top of cannabis possession. Officials claim that it’s better to declare cannabis in the vehicle, but it could result in a fine or arrest.
To avoid all of that, he said travelers would be wise to leave the cannabis at home or dispose of it before reaching the border in the first place.