Marijuana and Canadian Travel: What Should I Know?

Last updated: 18 July 2021

weed cannabis marijuana travel to canada

On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act took effect in Canada. This law marks a major change in Canadian policy. It legalizes marijuana possession and use for recreational purposes. 

The Act also set up a framework for licensed entities to cultivate or sell marijuana. Although the government has legalized the sale of weed within the country, that does not mean you can transport it with you across the border.

If you have a prior arrest or cannabis conviction there is a chance you may be turned away at the Canadian border. However it is important to know that you may still have options to enter Canada. We can help. Campbell Cohen is a leading Canadian immigration law firm with over 45 years of experience. 

Complete our contact form to receive a free consultation from a Campbell Cohen expert on how to overcome potential issues on inadmissibility to Canada.


Table of Contents


Overview

Recreational weed use is now legal in Canada. However, there are still many cannabis-related issues that may confront a foreigner seeking to come to Canada.

These issues include:

  • Entering or leaving Canada with marijuana in your possession, which remains prohibited
  • A criminal record involving cannabis, which can render you inadmissible
  • Respecting current Canadian laws regarding cannabis while in Canada: including: limits on possession; not driving while under the influence; not providing marijuana to minors.

Entering or Leaving Canada with Marijuana

You can possess and consume weed in Canada, subject to restrictions on amount and how it was purchased. However, it is still strictly prohibited to transport cannabis across the Canadian border - either into Canada from another country or from Canada into another country.

The ban on bringing or taking weed across the border applies:

  • No matter how much cannabis you have with you
  • to both cannabis products and products containing cannabis, such as edibles, extracts (vaporizers, concentrates etc.) and cannabis topicals
  • even if you are authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes in any form, including cannabidiol (CBD) etc.
  • even if you are travelling to or from a place where cannabis is decriminalized or legal.

It is also important to understand that the law against international transport applies even if cannabis is legal in both the source and destination countries. 

Declaring Cannabis at the Canadian Border

CBSA (Canadian Border Service Agency) officers are unlikely to interrogate a visitor about the visitor’s personal weed consumption outside of Canada. However, officers may ask the visitor whether that person is carrying a controlled or prohibited substance into the country.

If you do not properly declare your marijuana at the border or give inaccurate information, you may be issued a fine or denied entry to Canada by CBSA. It is important to note the penalties for cannabis related offenses. Keep in mind, as well, that the CBSA would likely keep record of your cannabis related border issue.

Travelling with Weed within Canada

You are responsible for respecting the cannabis legislation of wherever you are. Recreational marijuana, up to a certain amount, is legal throughout Canada. However, each province and territory sets the minimum age for purchase, possession, and use. Currently, it is 18 in Alberta, 21 in Quebec, and 19 in every other province or territory. It remains illegal for underage individuals to access cannabis - or for adults to facilitate such access.

The rule in Canada is that an individual is allowed to publicly possess 30 grams of dried cannabis. Canada sets the limits for other forms of cannabis, such as fresh, edibles or concentrates, using equivalencies Canada establishes. For example, 1 gram of dried cannabis is equivalent to 5 grams of the fresh version. Therefore, one is allowed to possess 30 grams of dried cannabis or 150 grams of fresh cannabis.

Helpfully, the Canadian government has created an online calculator that allows potential cannabis users to input the different amounts and types of cannabis they possess or plan to possess, to ensure they remain within the legal limits.

Inadmissibility to Canada due to a Marijuana Conviction

Many people wishing to enter or immigrate to Canada are surprised to learn that a prior, foreign, criminal conviction involving weed can render them inadmissible to the country. At Canadian ports of entry, CBSA staff can easily access, for example, an FBI criminal history report which can show most marijuana-related convictions. It does not matter whether the offense is considered a misdemeanor or a felony in the United States; what matters is how the offence translates into the equivalent Canadian law.

The key to understanding foreign cannabis convictions is to verify whether they have an equivalent in Canadian law. Foreign convictions for actions that are no longer illegal in Canada, but that may be illegal somewhere else, such as simple possession of 30 grams of dry cannabis (or equivalent), or possession of cannabis-paraphernalia (bongs, joint rollers, etc.), should not pose a problem.

However, several foreign cannabis charges/conviction(s) can still render a person inadmissible to Canada. Three of the most common are:

  • possession of more than 30 grams of dried cannabis (or equivalent in other forms)
  • driving under the influence (DUI) of cannabis
  • the illegal sale or distribution of cannabis (serious criminality, punishable by up to 10 years in prison)

As noted, Canada permits the possession of limited amounts of marijuana. However, this cannabis must be legally produced and obtained. If a user obtains it from an unlicensed producer or seller, the user - and producer or seller -may be subject to a criminal charge. This means that if one is convicted of a similar crime outside Canada, one may become inadmissible.

Possession of Cannabis and Criminal Inadmissibility

In an attempt to get rid of the black market for marijuana in Canada, the government made possessing illegally purchased marijuana - in any amount - a hybrid offence. A hybrid offence is one by which the government can, at its discretion, prosecute summarily or by indictment. Summary offences are generally less serious - somewhat similar to misdemeanors in the US - while indictments are more serious - more aligned to felonies.

Canada, for immigration purposes, treats hybrid offences as indictable offences in Canada. This treatment means Canada considers them more serious and even having a single conviction can make a person inadmissible. In order to ensure you can travel to Canada with a past hybrid offence on record, a person may have to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit or Criminal Rehabilitation.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of Marijuana

Driving under the influence of cannabis remains a very serious crime in Canada. In fact, when the Canadian government legalized recreational cannabis, it also increased the penalties for driving under the influence of substances, including cannabis. As a result, the maximum term of imprisonment for DUI doubled from 5 years in prison to 10 years in prison.

In the US and Canada, any substance that can render an individual impaired - whether prescribed or not - can support a driving under the influence (DUI) charge or conviction. The most common substances seen in DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) cases are: cannabis, cocaine, prescription pills, mushrooms, methamphetamines, heroin, Xanax, Ambien, pain medications.

As a result of this change, a foreign national who is convicted - whether in Canada or outside - of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be criminally inadmissible on grounds of serious criminality. This applies if the offence occurred after October 17, 2018.

Learn more about how to get into Canada with a DUI.

Trafficking or the Illegal Sale of Weed

If you have a past conviction involving importation, exportation, trafficking or sale of cannabis, you are likely to be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada. Canada identifies these offences as serious criminality. This designation makes inadmissibility to Canada very likely and increases the likelihood of a more thorough screening by a Canadian border agent.

In most cases, these types of crimes require an application to overcome inadmissibility and may also increase the processing fees charged by the Canadian Government. Applications which include serious criminality are scrutinized more carefully and can benefit from the assistance of a Canadian immigration lawyer. If you do not address inadmissibility related to serious criminality prior to entering Canada, you are likely to be denied entry to the country.

How to Overcome Inadmissibility due to a Cannabis Conviction?

There are three main ways those looking to travel to Canada can  overcome criminal inadmissibility:  

  • Submit a Temporary Resident Permit Application
  • Submit a Criminal Rehabilitation Letter
  • Legal Opinion Letter

1) Submit a Temporary Resident Permit Application

    If you are a foreign national who is facing charges for, or has been convicted of, a criminal offence involving cannabis, you may be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada. A temporary resident permit (TRP) can grant temporary access to Canada for people who are currently inadmissible due to a past criminal record.

    A Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) application should only be submitted for significant travel, such as for business purposes or an emergency. A TRP can be granted for a duration of a stay up to three years, depending on the reasons for entry. It may allow only one entry to Canada or permit multiple re-entries: the decision is at the discretion of the government. An individual with a valid TRP can also apply, once in Canada, to extend the duration of the permit. Unlike criminal rehabilitation, a TRP is not subject to a certain time frame in relation to the completion of the sentence. This means that an individual can potentially obtain a TRP while still serving a portion of their sentence (probation, etc.).

    Individuals who are American citizens or have permanent resident status in the United States can submit their TRP applications at a consulate or for immediate processing at a Canadian port of entry (land, air or sea).

    Processing Fee: The TRP processing fee is $200 CAD.

    2) Submit a Criminal Rehabilitation Application

      Criminal rehabilitation is an application offered by the Canadian government to those who are eligible for permanent clearance of a past criminal record for the purposes of entering Canada. If you have been convicted of a crime or crimes in a foreign country, and it has been more than five years since completing your sentence, you are likely eligible to apply for criminal rehabilitation in Canada.

      If an individual receives an approval for criminal rehabilitation to enter Canada, they are no longer considered inadmissible and would not require a TRP for entry. The criminal rehabilitation application is a one-time solution that, unlike a TRP, never requires renewal.

      If you have ever received a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) in the past, have been denied entry to Canada, or believe you are currently inadmissible due to a cannabis offense, you must do the following:

      • Wait five years after the completion of your sentence before applying
      • Demonstrate that you have been rehabilitated and are no longer a risk for criminal activity. This process may require you demonstrate: a stable lifestyle; community ties; and/or social and vocational skills.

      There are two forms of criminal rehabilitation that can resolve inadmissibility to Canada:

      Processing Fee: If you have a past cannabis conviction which translates to a serious crime in Canada, government processing fees increase dramatically. The processing fee is $200 CAD for applicants with non-serious criminality and $1,000 CAD for those with serious criminality.

      3) Legal Opinion Letter

      A legal opinion letter is a document that a Canadian immigration lawyer prepares. It contains details concerning a past marijuana charge or conviction and the lawyer’s legal conclusions on the situation. The purpose of the letter is to identify relevant Canadian law and explain why the person should be deemed admissible to Canada. If you have been denied entry in the past due to a marijuana related conviction (such as possession of paraphernalia), have a recent charge or admitted marijuana use at a port of entry a legal opinion letter may be valuable for your next trip into Canada.

      A legal opinion letter can also be beneficial to those in a pre-sentencing situation prior to making a final plea. The letter can explain the direct equivalency of a particular cannabis related crime into Canadian law. If the defendant has intentions of visiting or moving to Canada, a legal opinion letter can be useful to the defendant and their counsel in determining how to plead. It can also be presented to the prosecution to explain the effects of a conviction on future travel.


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