Why is the US Banning Canadians Who Admit to Trying Weed?

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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.

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Courtesy of Poshmark

“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 Admitting prior use to a border guard is technically a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, an outdated travesty of a law that continues to drain precious resources while it seemingly accomplishes nothing.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:

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Courtesy of GIPHY

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.

(Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

About Author

Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you'd like to read way fewer words by me.

3 Comments

  1. It’s regrettable that this happened to Mr. Ranta as it seems he has done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, the border guards have a lot of discretion. There are two possible scenarios that Mr. Ranta could consider if he decides to apply for the waiver. One is that he receives the waiver, but then it needs to be renewed. They are generally issued from six months to five years. Anyone who is considering applying for a waiver should be aware that the US is considering a fee increase. A second scenario, and the more ideal scenario, is that he submits the application, the Department of Homeland Security reviews it, and determines that he does not receive a waiver. In this case he would receive a letter and would not need to continually apply. This happens occasionally where people have been turned away at the border for minor charges.

  2. Sorry I meant in the second scenario he would not need a waiver. He would submit the application and the US border would send him a letter stating this.

  3. Sometimes (all the time when dealing with any part of the govt) it’s better to use your brain first before one engages his or her mouth and whenever asked about anything especially regarding cannabis either change the subject or lie. I’m in a legal weed state and am a Boomer who’s indulged since my tour in the USAF in the mid 1970’s where I learned all about cannabis and hashish thanks to a couple of years stationed in Germany. But when it comes to anything to do with cannabis legal or otherwise I act like the straight guy I (apparently) look like and say nothing. The author should have done the same thing obviously as we see here…

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