COVID-19 has upended many aspects of our lives, and to cope, Quebecers have been smoking tremendous amounts of pot from the SQDC. And let’s not be overly judgemental. The social, psychological and financial stressors of this pandemic have been a challenge and we needed something to take the edge off.
But did you know that buying legal cannabis in Canada carries the remote chance of creating an issue for you crossing the border?
It’s true. Especially if you create a digital record of your weed purchase by using a credit card. The risks range from denial of entry to a lifetime ban.
Pre-COVID, the advice had been to pay for cannabis with cash because it leaves no digital footprint of your purchase.
However, the pandemic has thrown in a whole level of complexity because people have been strongly encouraged to go cashless as a preventive hygiene measure.
We spoke to Trina Fraser, a partner with the law firm Brazeau Sellers and one of Canada’s top cannabis lawyers, about the risks involved in using credit cards to buy weed.
U.S. customs agents could theoretically deny you entry
When you use a credit card, it creates a digital record of the purchase of cannabis.
The worry is that that if the U.S. government got its hands on this information — and they do have the right to examine your transactions — “they could flag your file so that the next time you try and visit, a border officer would see that information and declare you unfit for entry as being a drug user,” said Fraser.
“There are immigration lawyers who have clients that are reliant on waivers for the rest of their life because they either work in the industry or have admitted to legal cannabis use in Canada,” she said.
While most Canadian retailers protect their customers’ data by storing it on Canadian servers, that’s not always the case with the banks that issue credit cards, she said.
“So now there’s this risk, small as it may be, that this record of you making a purchase of cannabis could be on computer servers in the U.S., which could hypothetically be subject to seizure by the U.S. government and potentially used as the basis for denying you entry to the country,” said Fraser.
But it's probably fine
The thing is, Fraser can't think of a single instance of this actually happening.
It’s true pot-smoking Canadians have been facing more problems at the border since legalization, but this is mostly due to tyrannical customs officials extracting confessions out of hapless boomers and not because the Yanks hacked their credit card history.
“I’m not aware of any real-life situation where this has actually happened,” said Fraser. “I think it’s more of a theoretical risk than a real one.”
However, Canadians who work in the marijuana industry, especially if they’re travelling for work, could face bigger problems at the border, she said.
Fraser said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency recently amended its policy to allow Canadians who work in the cannabis industry to visit America for reasons unrelated to pot.
Despite that, she’s “still seeing the odd outlier case of someone having a problem getting into the U.S.”
Fraser's advice: use your brain
In the not too distant future, Fraser foresees some kind of federal legalization of cannabis in the U.S., which would eliminate this risk.
But until that time, it’ll help to use your head.
Part of Fraser’s legal practice involves counselling cannabis companies about how to safely send employees into the U.S. for work-related purposes and what she tells them can apply to the rest of us.
Like, consider what could be lurking at the bottom of your suitcase before embarking on your trip to America.
Think about what should or should not be on your phone or laptop and make sure your business card is non-incriminating.
Also, remember that whether you pay cash or credit card, you may get asked questions about cannabis use at the border and how you answer those questions may affect whether you’re permitted entry.
“If you happen to lose the lottery and you get a really cranky border officer who smells cannabis on you when you walk up to the gate and they ask you questions about your cannabis use and you admit to cannabis use, then technically they still have the discretion to deny you entry for being an illicit drug user,” said Fraser.
“Most border officers wouldn’t do that but it still happens.”