Even though Canada has legalized recreational cannabis—medical marijuana has been legal since 2001—the US border crossing continues to be a drug-free zone because, under US federal law, cannabis remains illegal despite legalization in some states. Thus, anyone caught with marijuana at the border is subject to arrest and prosecution under federal law, as well as potential seizure, denial of admission, and/or fines. The same potential serious effect applies to driving under the influence of alcohol.
What you need to know
According to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Michigan Director of Field Operations Christopher Perry, the CBP is charged with upholding and enforcing US laws, and simply because Canada has legalized cannabis does not change US law. Even though Michigan recently decriminalized marijuana, federal law continues to supersede state law.
If you are a US citizen who brings marijuana into Canada and are caught at the border, you may be arrested for drug trafficking and be barred from entering Canada for life, even if that marijuana was purchased in a state where it is legal.
Canadians crossing into the US must be cognizant of the fact that marijuana use is a federal crime in the US. Regardless of their final destination—and whether it is in a state where marijuana is legal—CBP is charged with enforcing federal law, and said individuals can be barred from entering the US. The same can be said for bringing marijuana into the US—it is illegal.
DUI/DWI concerns when traveling into Canada
Whereas US police require just cause for administering roadside sobriety tests to drivers suspected of DUI/DWI, in Canada, a new, very strict law passed in 2018 has elevated DUI/DWI for alcohol and drugs to the level of serious offense alongside drug trafficking, homicide, and sexual assault regardless of whether anyone was seriously injured or killed.
First of all, the law has enabled Canadian police to test any driver stopped for any reason. Thus, if law enforcement stops you during a traffic stop in the US, officers must have a reasonable reason to test you for drug use; however, in Canada, officers can test you without reasonable cause. Further, being stopped for being under the influence of marijuana is commensurate to driving drunk, and the same penalties and consequences apply. This new law has also increased drunk driving sentencing from a maximum of five years to a maximum of ten years.
You can also be barred from entering Canada if you have an old DUI/DWI conviction; however, anyone convicted of a DUI/DWI post-December 2018 will receive the brunt of problems as Canada’s Temporary Resident Permits (TRP) will no longer be issued for DUI/DWI convictions because it is now a serious offense. In fact, Canada views DUI/DWI as a serious offense regardless of where the conviction occurred.
Further, anyone who is a Canadian permanent resident—not a citizen—can be deported from the country for having a DUI/DWI conviction.
The best way to prevent falling prey to Canada’s new scrutiny is that if you are planning on crossing the border, don’t drink and drive, and don’t carry cannabis with you. Once in Canada, ensure that you never place yourself in a position to be arrested for DUI/DWI.