As if the United States border crossing experience wasn’t unsettling enough, apparently answering a simple marijuana-related question incorrectly can get you banned from the “land of the free” for life.
How could such baseless oppression be possible in 2016, when more than half of our states have some form of legalized marijuana? Allow Canadian music journalist Alan Ranta’s story to serve as a prime example.
Ranta was attempting to make his way from British Columbia to the States for a music festival when he pulled up to a border crossing into Washington State. Ranta believes he was profiled because of the camping gear he had in his car, though he was adamant about the fact that he had no drugs in his possession. The border patrol discovered as much only after an exhaustive search of the car and Ranta. Unfortunately, the excessive interrogation didn’t end there.
“We had nothing on us, but they did find a small purse that said ‘weed money’ on it … Ironically it never had weed or money in it,” Ranta explained to VICE.
The allusion to marijuana culture seemed to be just the opening border guards needed to advance their inquisition of the traveling writer. At this point, Alan was handcuffed and subsequently confined to a small interrogation room with nothing but a bench and toilet.
Once he was in custody, interrogators started questioning Ranta about his weed smoking habits. “I thought, Trudeau has said it’s going to be legal in a year, and the state I’m going to has had it legal for three years—it didn’t seem like that big of a deal,” said Ranta. Unfortunately, in this case, the truth did not set him free.
Whether you smoke regularly or haven’t toked up since that Dave Matthews concert sophomore year, admitting to any consumption whatsoever can get you blacklisted from entry to the United States. Admitting prior use to a border guard is technically a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, an outdated travesty of a law that continues to drain precious resources while it seemingly accomplishes nothing.
According to immigration experts, admission is just as good as a conviction when it comes to the border. Ranta was eventually released but was not allowed to enter the U.S. In fact, is now barred for life.
“It’s pretty devastating. My family’s had a cottage in Point Roberts, Washington for about 50 years, which is a place I feel connected to my dad who passed away 10 years ago. I try to go several times a summer if I can,” he said. “I’ve also covered Sasquatch Festival for the last six years.”
Ranta has one option if he wants to be able to visit our fine country ever again:
Ranta can apply for a waiver that would allow him to enter the country, but it carries a hefty fee of $589 and still doesn’t remove the criminal stigma from his record that will surely cause future issues at that border and many others. “I’m stuck with this for life now,” Alan said. “The gravity of the situation didn’t really sink in until after.”
Len Saunders, an attorney who deals with an increasing amount of these cases every year, attempts to warn travelers that the less information they give, the better. “I’m Canadian myself, and I try to warn Canadians that if you do this … if you admit at the port of entry, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime bar.”
Saunders added, “What’s shitty is it’s almost like entrapment—you don’t need to admit it. You’re under no obligation to answer that question. Clients call me, they say they had to tell the truth, I couldn’t lie. What I’ll say is, change the question: what if they asked about your sex life? Would you be so forthcoming?”
In hindsight, Ranta says he would’ve lied about his past marijuana consumption or simply refused to answer the question.