Marijuana: Are pot-smokers being turned away at the U.S. border?

Marijuana use for adults 21 and over is legal in Colorado and Washington, but any wannabe toking tourists headed here from other countries might want to keep quiet about it until they get here.

According to reports in the Canadian press, simply admitting to a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent that you've smoked pot or that you plan to smoke pot apparently can get you turned away at the border -- and perhaps permanently banned from the good ol' U.S. of A because marijuana is still illegal under federal laws.

The Canadian CBS reported this week that U.S. Border Patrol agents on the US-Canadian border plan to ask tourists about cannabis use and whether or not their plans in the U.S. involve any THC. That sets up a tricky legal situation for people wanting to come to Colorado to legally smoke cannabis and otherwise follow U.S. laws.

"What if someone tells the truth at the border about why they're coming shopping? They've now admitted to committing a federal crime, which is purchasing or using a controlled substance, and it's going to create a lot of confusion," Washington-based immigration attorney Len Saunders told the CBC. "Are they supposed to lie? Are they supposed to tell the truth? And how are the officers going to handle it?"

That depends on the officer: The policy isn't uniformly applied, according to news reports. Border patrol officials say that questions about drug use or other crimes are left up to each border guard, which leads to some people getting the permanent blacklist and some going through without any hassle.

One of those people on the do-not-enter list is thirty-year-old Jessica Goldstein, who in September admitted to agents that she had smoke pot the week before she tried to enter Washington. Goldstein, who owns property in that state, has an American father. She says she was on her way to see the Dave Matthews Band when she was pulled aside and interrogated for hours. This wasn't the first time she was asked about her pot use, nor was it the first time she had been honest about it, she told a reporter. But because the border guard that day wanted to push things, Goldstein is now barred from entering the U.S.

"I haven't done anything," she told the Vancouver Sun. "I wasn't carrying anything, my truck was clean. I'm just an honest person. I can't lie about these things, and don't feel I should have to."

But Border Patrol officials defend the profiling-based policy. "It's not something that we're asking 100 percent of the people who come across," said Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. "If we saw an indication and needed to drill down to make an admissibility decision on a case-by-case basis, that's how we do it."

For more historical Colorado cannabis articles, check out our Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule Archives.

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