The legal landscape regarding the use and cultivation of marijuana is changing in the United States, Canada, and many other countries. Many questions are arising as to the impact of marijuana-related activities on one’s admissibility to the United States. As a matter of U.S. federal law, marijuana is still a controlled substance. However, as of the end of 2018, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legalized in 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and recreational use has been legalized in nine U.S. states. In addition, as of October 17, 2018, Canada has legalized recreational marijuana use. Other countries, such as Uruguay, have also made the move to legalize recreational use while countries such as the Netherlands “tolerates” the sale of marijuana, subject to strict conditions. As the number of legal marijuana users increases on both sides of the border, it is important to consider how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) might focus its questioning or change enforcement tactics when determining admissibility of individuals who lawfully use or cultivate marijuana.
As there is no right to counsel at ports of entry, advising foreign nationals regarding issues that may arise in advance of travel is vital, as it is clear that the trend toward legalization, both inside and outside the United States, has increased the risks associated with travel to the United States. Conviction for possession of even a miniscule amount of marijuana renders a foreign national inadmissible. The only available waiver requires a showing of extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent, spouse, or child. Worst of all is that CBP can deny entry on medical-related grounds to someone who admits marijuana use.