Canada legalizes marijuana, but little changes on the U.S. border

Oct 17, 2018

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Marijuana sales and consumption became legal across Canada overnight. But in the U.S., nothing changed – including rules at its northern borders.


“Despite Canada’s legalization of marijuana, our laws have not changed,” was the bottom line from Richard Roberts, Assistant Director of Border Security at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Buffalo field office.

Inside the CBP’s Peace Bridge station, Roberts told reporters U.S. federal law will continue to be enforced as travelers enter from Canada.

CBP is asking travelers not to attempt entry into the U.S. with marijuana in any form, including edibles and medical marijuana prescribed by a medical provider. Regardless of whether they’re headed to a state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana, those caught with the drug will be given a minimum administrative fine, and could face penalties from state and federal charges.

CBP officers will assess every traveler’s admissibility on a case-by-case basis.

“A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada coming to the United States for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the United States,” said Roberts. “However, if a traveler is coming to the United States for reasons related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

Chief CBP Officer and Public Affairs Liaison Aaron Bowker said travel times and the number of searches at locations like the Peace Bridge – one of the north’s busiest border crossings – are not expected to increase.

“What we were seeing before is what we’re seeing now,” said Bowker. “Obviously there is a little bit of a potential for an increase in possession and we’re aware of that. If people can legally obtain it now, there’s a chance that we see a little more of it.”

But use of marijuana by U.S. citizens in Canada will not be the concern of the CBP unless it continues across the border in some way.

“A U.S. citizen is allowed to come back into the country,” said Bowker. “You may face a couple of extra questions. If it’s obvious that someone in the car has smoked or we smell it, you could be subject to search at that point. But barring possessing marijuana, yeah, you would be allowed to continue for sure.”

Driving under the influence of marijuana will continue be an issue. The penalty has not changed, and it will be enforced using standard field sobriety tests from the Buffalo Police.

Cars, trucks, and SUVs continue through CBP inspection stations at the Peace Bridge on the first day of marijuana legalization across Canada.Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO NewsEdit | Remove

“We want to make sure our roadways are safe and that everyone operating a motor vehicle is doing so with their full faculties about them,” said Buffalo Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.

Cars, trucks, and SUVs continue through CBP inspection stations at the Peace Bridge on the first day of marijuana legalization across Canada.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

CBP officials say there have been no issues at the Peace Bridge crossing since Canada’s laws changed at midnight. There will also be no difference in how CBP officers are trained or what questions they ask. The usual “What’s your citizenship?” and “Do you have anything to declare while crossing the border?” remain the standard.

While cars, SUVs, and tractor-trailers rumbled by on Wednesday morning, Canadians travelling into the U.S. reported as much.

“No big deal. Same as always,” said Hamilton, Ontario resident Ernie Schoenholz as he left the CBP inspection booths on his motorcycle.

Schoenholz wondered if there would be questions about marijuana, but said CBP officers didn’t even ask.

“They had the dogs sniffing around though,” Schoenholz observed, but noted it’s nothing new.

Hilary Palombo works in the U.S. and uses the Nexus program, which expedites her travel with pre-screening. She wouldn’t normally get questioned, nor did she today. But, she had noticed a slight change.

“They have had no cannabis signs at the border for the last couple of days, which is great – giving people warning. It’s not okay over here yet,” said Palombo.