In major shift, the U.S. says it won’t ban Canadian pot workers

In a policy change made without fanfare Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now says Canadians who work in the legal cannabis industry here will be free to enter the United States.

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It’s a major reversal of a position announced in late September, when a CBP statement on marijuana legalization in Canada said that “as marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S.”

READ MORE: Think twice before taking pot on flights after legalization, transport minister warns

The statement was updated Tuesday, but the change wasn’t widely noticed until Wednesday night.

It now says that “a Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S.”

WATCH: Pot sector workers could face trouble at U.S. border

“It’s a 180-degree turnaround from their statement two weeks ago,” says Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, Wash.

“I think this is a best-case scenario. It should make the Canadian government a lot more comfortable knowing that Canadians doing this in Canada won’t be denied entry. It still tells Canadians they can’t get involved with the U.S. cannabis industry, and a lot of these big companies will be, but at least it protects Canadians doing it legally in Canada.”

The ban potentially affected everybody involved in Canada’s legal cannabis industry, from retail workers to people involved in support activities like accounting.

In late September, B.C.’s solicitor general Mike Farnworth pointed out that hundreds of provincial government employees involved in the legal cannabis industry in the province were in danger of being banned for life from entering the U.S.

READ MORE: Gov’t employees working in legal pot industry may be denied entry into U.S., says B.C. solicitor general

The statement cautions that Canadians can still be banned at the border for trying to enter the U.S. for reasons related to the American marijuana industry. Although legal in a growing number of states, medical and recreational cannabis are both still illegal under U.S. federal law.

Language barring “abusers” of drugs banned in the United States, including marijuana, remains in place. Any level of use of these drugs is considered abuse.”

On paper, this creates a situation where a cannabis store worker could be banned for using the pot that she is employed to sell — but not for actually selling it — but Saunders doesn’t think it will work that way.

WATCH: U.S. senator introduces bill to legalize marijuana at federal level

“For the recreational user, I think they’re going to be OK coming to the U.S.”

However, Saunders is startled that such a major change was announced in such an under-the-radar way.

“It’s literally a week before legalization, and the Americans finally have taken a common-sense approach.”

“Here they are, issuing statements that are vitally important to Canadians and the Canadian government, and you’d think the Canadian government would at least issue a press release and say ‘Hey, it’s not as bad as everyone was anticipating.'”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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