Canadian Green Light for Marijuana May Not Affect US Consumers

In October, Canada is set to legalize the recreational use of marijuana nationwide. Legalization theoretically could mean that American consumers could cross the border to consume marijuana in Canada and possibly bring it back to the U.S., but in reality this is unlikely to happen, at least for now. While some states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, including a few states that border Canada, the substance remains illegal under federal law. The federal government controls the zone around the Canadian border, and it plans to strictly enforce the marijuana ban under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Thus, U.S. citizens who bring the drug back from Canada could be subject to federal felony charges that carry harsh penalties, such as drug smuggling or driving under the influence of drugs. Canadians who try to bring marijuana across the border, or even who admit to having used marijuana, face a lifetime ban from entering the U.S. (Ironically, under existing law, current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be unable to enter the U.S. when he leaves office, since he has admitted to the recreational use of marijuana when he was younger.) There are ways to apply for a waiver of this ban, but they are costly and cumbersome.

Many consumers and members of the cannabis industry on both sides of the border are uncertain about how the Canadian and U.S. laws will interact. Some business owners in Windsor, Ontario (connected by bridge to Detroit, Michigan) expect substantial numbers of Michigan residents to cross the border to use the drug, since they have habitually come to Windsor to drink or gamble. (Canada’s drinking and gambling minimum ages are two years lower than the U.S. equivalents.) However, they acknowledge that their return to the U.S. could be problematic. Michigan may legalize marijuana for recreational use statewide in November, so awaiting the result of the upcoming referendum may be more prudent.