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Immigration and Marijuana Update

By Naseem P. Malik

Marijuana will soon be legal for recreational use nationwide and many employers are scrambling to respond to the challenges this important change will create for their business.  An issue that is of often forgotten is how this issue will be dealt with at the border.

Notwithstanding the legalization of marijuana, there will be a strict legal framework for controlling the possession of cannabis in Canada. Taking cannabis across the border into or out of Canada without a permit or exemption authorized by Health Canada will remain a serious criminal offence subject to arrest and prosecution.    This strict approach is being maintained at a time when marijuana laws are being liberalized at the state level across the U.S.A.

Can Business Visitors Bring Marijuana Into Canada?

We are frequently asked by potential business visitors to Canada whether they can bring marijuana into the country if they have a doctor’s prescription or marijuana is legal for recreational use in their state.  The answer to that question is absolutely not unless the person importing the marijuana has been issued an exemption by Health Canada to import marijuana for medical or scientific purposes.

The process for obtaining an exemption from Health Canada is very complicated and time consuming.  It is not likely that many business travelers would be prepared to invest the time and effort to obtaining such an exemption.  Therefore, as it stands now visitors to Canada will not be able to import marijuana to the country regardless of the legal status of the substance in their home jurisdiction.

Can Business Visitors Bring Marijuana into the USA or Other Countries?

Business visitors cannot export marijuana from Canada into the U.S.A. or into other countries.  Regardless of the legal status of marijuana in other countries, it remains an offence under Canadian law to export marijuana out of the country.  Marijuana remains illegal under the federal law of the United States and most other countries.  Those caught importing marijuana into those jurisdictions can face severe criminal penalties.

Can I Be Barred from the USA for Using Recreational/Medical Marijuana in Canada?

We do not practice American law and thus cannot answer this question definitively.  However, in consultation with our colleagues in American jurisdictions in the WorkLaw network has revealed that any visitor the to the U.S.A. who is a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of or admits to having committed a violation of marijuana laws will not likely be admitted to the U.S.A.

American authorities have publicly stated that Canadian citizen working in the legal marijuana industry in Canada will generally be admissible into the country provided that they are not visiting the U.S.A. for a reason related to the marijuana industry. However, if a business visitor is found to be coming to the U.S.A. for a purpose related to the marijuana industry, they may be denied entry.

For those business visitors to the U.S.A.  that need more detailed guidance on this issue we would happy to refer you to an immigration attorney in the Worklaw Network.

Will the Border Laws on Marijuana for Business Visitors Ever Be Liberalized?

We don’t have a crystal ball and thus take our comments with a grain of salt.  However, it appears the U.S.A. is gradually moving towards a more tolerant attitude towards marijuana and it is at least possible that it will eventually be legalized at the federal level.  If that is the case it possible that some limited imports and exports for personal use will be permitted in a similar manner to personal use duty free exemptions which apply for alcohol. .


Join experienced workplace lawyers Ryan Conlin, Naseem Malik and Frank Portman for a complimentary webinar on how to prepare for the impending legalization of marijuana in your workplace.  Register here now!


For more information contact:

Naseem P. Malik at [email protected] or 416-645-2021.

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