Although cannabis has been legalized in some parts of Canada and the U.S., that does not mean you can cross the border without giving serious thought to the consequences of pot use. Even if it’s legal on both sides of the border you’re crossing, U.S. and Canadian customs agents enforce federal laws restricting use and transportation of marijuana. As the Canadian government says, “Don’t bring it in. Don’t take it out.” Cannabis related issues can be serious.
After you finish reading this page, see our detailed information on Cannabis Issues When Entering Canada and Cannabis Issues When Entering the U.S.
You should also carefully read our advice for what to do when approaching customs, find out what they know about you, and learn when and how they’re allowed to search you at the border.
The Consequences of Getting Caught
What will happen if you are caught at the border with pot, or admit to pot use, varies by the offense. In addition, the consequences can change over time. Different political parties have different views on drug use, so government orders to border officers on what they should ask, how they should handle the answers, and what to do if they find pot in your vehicle will change. Here are the range of possible results if you are identified as a pot user:
- You may just be turned away from the border. This will be noted on your record and will be visible to border officer anytime you try to enter the country.
- Your membership in any trusted traveler program such as NEXUS, Global Entry, or Clear can be revoked for life.
- You can be banned from either country for life.
- You can be arrested.
One thing that is not likely to change is that you you will very likely be deemed inadmissible to either country if you were ever convicted of a crime related to drug or alcohol use.
Cannabis – What You Should Not Do When Entering Either Country
- DO NOT: Show up at the border stoned. This is a good way to get arrested for driving under the influence.
- DO NOT: Have any type of cannabis in your possession. You cannot bring pot across the border without an import license – period. You will be turned away – and perhaps arrested. Clean out any trace of marijuana or drug paraphernalia from your vehicle, luggage, purse, pants pockets, glove compartment – EVERYWHERE. Border officers have the right to search every square inch of your person, possessions, and your vehicle. If they find any evidence of pot, seeds, rolling papers, pipes – anything – you can be turned away – or worse. Do a good job of cleaning your car because drug sniffing dogs are very good at what they do.
- DO NOT: Joke about pot or bring up the subject in any way. Unless, of course, you enjoy spending quality time with law enforcement.
- DO NOT: Show up looking like a pot smoker. Can they arrest you for that? Well, no. But border officials are always on the lookout for “tells.” They profile people. If they have suspicions, they can pull you aside and take the investigation to a deeper level. Remove that weed decal from your bumper.
- DO NOT: Have drug related references on your laptop, phone, or other electronic devices. If they are suspicious, officers can make you unlock your devices. Border officials have virtually unlimited rights to search anything you have in your possession or on your social media. They do not need a warrant.
- DO NOT: Make references to drug use in your social media. Border officers can use the internet just as easily as you can, and they know to look at social media pages. If you are a rock star and there are lots of pictures of you lighting up – you have a problem.
- DO NOT: Think medical marijuana is OK. You must get a permit to bring any cannabis product into either country, and those permits are not issued to individuals. If you have a medical marijuana product and a prescription for it, your product will be seized. You could be prosecuted, but that is not as likely unless you have a large quantity or are a repeat offender. The entire event will go into your border crossing record and will be visible on later attempts to cross the border. You should consult an attorney to examine your options if you really need your meds with you on your trip.