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U.S. official: Canadian marijuana users, workers and investors risk lifetime border ban

U.S. official: Canadian marijuana users, workers and investors risk lifetime border ban

Canadians who work in the marijuana industry — and those who invest in the booming pot sector — risk a lifetime ban on travel to the U.S., according to a senior official overseeing U.S border operations.

As Canada prepares to become the world’s only major industrialized nation to legalize retail marijuana sales starting Oct. 17, the Canadian cannabis sector is projected to generate billions of dollars of revenue in coming years and Canadians have flocked to take jobs and buy stocks in the burgeoning industry. But the move has potential to disrupt border crossings between the U.S. and Canada for travelers who run afoul of American drug laws, even if their activities are legal in Canada.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will continue to apply long-standing U.S. federal laws and regulations that treat marijuana as a banned substance — and participants in the cannabis industry as drug traffickers — who are inadmissible into the U.S. Although some U.S. states have eased marijuana laws, the U.S. continues to maintain a federal prohibition that applies at the border, said Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, who gave POLITICO a detailed preview of how CBP will apply longstanding rules.

Here’s exactly how it would work at the border: CBP officials are not planning to go out of their way to interrogate every Canadian traveler about marijuana use. However, other factors may cause them to raise the topic.

“Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there — or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” Owen said. Likewise, marijuana residue, which can linger for weeks inside a car, could be detected by CBP inspection dogs and lead to further questioning, he noted. If asked about past drug use, travelers should not lie, he said. “If you lie about it, that’s fraud and misrepresentation, which carries a lifetime ban,” Owen said.