Border Disorder: Cannabis Workers Face Higher Risks Entering U.S.

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By, Kate Robertson

Cheryl Shuman has been called the “Martha Stewart of marijuana” because of her dominance in the global cannabis industry, a role that has her traveling about 200,000 miles each year for work. But Shuman says she still feels terrified every time she has to interact with border agents.

“I wouldn’t say it’s funny because I still sweat bullets every time,” she told on the phone from Los Angeles. “People like me have to be insanely careful and follow the laws.”

Shuman, who is based in Beverly Hills, get nervous even though she’s doing nothing illegal:  She’s a medical cannabis consumer registered in California, an events producer and a dealmaker who assists Canadian giants such as Canopy Growth and Aurora with mergers and acquisitions. As an activist and a public figure, Shuman said she believes her activities are being tracked by federal authorities in the United States and she and her international network of cannabis insiders face probing questions about their activities abroad.

Just last spring, a customs agent spotted the logo on her Mexican colleague’s business card when they flew from Mexico City to Los Angeles after the Canna Mexico World Summit, a May 2018 meeting of international business, political and cannabis industry leaders. The logo prompted questions about work, which prompted Shuman to speak glowingly of the event and that former President Vicente Fox spoke there of ending prohibition. The colleague was detained for 18 hours, and Shuman said she stayed with him for six to seven hours. Ever since, Shuman has found herself stopped and questioned more frequently when she’s traveling.

Cheryl Shuman spoke at the CannaMexico World Summit in May 2018 in Mexico City. Since the conference, Shuman believes that U.S. authorities are closely tracking her and her business activities. (Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Shuman)

With Canada set to legalize recreational cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is reminding travelers that American federal laws remain unchanged. There has been an increase in the number of cases of Canadians facing lifetime bans to the U.S. for their use of or involvement in cannabis, said Washington-based immigration lawyer Len Saunders. And for Americans interested in touring Canada’s nationally legal weed scene, it’s a crucial time to brush up on the law before planning a trip.

American citizens are always allowed back in the country, but because the Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis is a Schedule I drug, possessing it could lead to having it confiscated, your arrest or a fine, experts said.

All arriving travelers, regardless of citizenship, are subject to CBP inspection, and CBP officers have a broad latitude to question travelers during that inspection process including about the use of controlled substances,” an agency spokesperson told by email. “While CBP officers will not ask every individual about their use of marijuana or affiliation with the industry, every CBP inspection is different, and questions may arise during the course of an interview at any time.”

The British Columbia-Washington border is one of the busiest ports of entry between Canada and the United States, and Saunders said that he’s helped numerous Canadian clients trying to cross it who were unaware that while cannabis is legal in Washington state, the border itself is administered by federal officials who uphold federal law.

“Most of these officers they drive by marijuana shops on their way to work,” Saunders told in  a telephone interview from Blaine. “You can physically — I’m not joking — you can physically see one of the marijuana shops from the Peace Arch point of entry.”

Cheryl Shuman and Dr. Oscar Prospéro García of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) School of Medicine were panelists at the CannaMexico World Summit in May 2018 in Mexico City. (Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Shuman)

Non-Americans who admit to ever consuming cannabis, have invested in cannabis companies, or work in the industry can face lifetime bans that require a $535 waiver for re-entry. Technically, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has admitted to trying marijuana, could be deemed inadmissible by CBP.

For Americans? Saunders said the worst thing that can happen for non-criminal activity such as working in the industry or possessing drug paraphernalia, travelers can lose their Nexus card, a privileged status with shorter customs lines.

Both Saunders and Shuman advise all travelers to avoid wearing stereotypical stoner gear like tie-dye, or industry-branded apparel with logos of cannabis plants. Those will give officers reasons to ask questions about weed. If CBP asks to search a device such as a mobile phone, you are not legally obligated to hand over your password — but Americans can be detained before they’re allowed in, and they could keep your device for up to five days.

Rather than picking up your device yourself, Saunders advised asking a friend to do it on your behalf: “If you go yourself, you could open yourself up to more interrogation.”

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