In 2012 the citizens of the states of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in their respective states. Effective January 1, 2014 in both of these states it is now legal to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal consumption for anyone 21 years old or older. This has led to speculation that both of these states may well have a boom in drug tourism similar to Amsterdam in Europe. It does raise an interesting legal question in that the United States jurisdiction has criminal laws both federally and on the state level. In these two states although it is legal from the state's perspective to now possess marijuana it is still illegal under the federal laws. The Obama administration however has indicated that they will look the other way and not prosecute possession of marijuana in these states under the federal regime.
Another interesting legal issue that has now arisen is what to say at the border if you intend to travel to Washington or Colorado to sample their now legal products. The border is controlled by the federal authorities who still consider marijuana illegal in the United States. If you admit to traveling to the United States for the purpose of consuming marijuana in a state where it's legal, the border authorities can then bar you indefinitely from attending the United States. Currently any noncitizen attempting to enter the USA who admits to consuming illicit drugs in the past or planning to consume them in the future can be deemed inadmissible to the United States. At this time it is unclear what will occur at the border as there are not presently any policies directing the border guards on this issue; it is totally up to the discretion of the individual border guard. Ironically a Canadian citizen can be banned for admitting that he intends to travel to the United States to do something completely legal in the state he will be visiting. It should be noted that if a border guard deems you inadmissible to the United States you can only enter that country in the future after you have obtained a waiver which can cost thousands of dollars.
Similar legalization schemes are being considered in a number of other states including Maine and Michigan, who are watching closely to see how these new regimes in Colorado and Washington work out and most importantly how much new tax revenue legal pot will generate.
Until the smoke clears on the multiple issues this has created, be very careful what you say at the border if you intend to head south for a “potcation”.
Shawn Swarts is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice. For more articles, visit the Library page at www.cobbjones.ca