On August 28, the U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security raided a villa in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., where they discovered approximately 400 lbs of Canadian cannabis with a street value of $314,400. Alexandria Bay lies on the St. Lawrence River directly across from Ontario’s 1,000 Islands region, a prime spot for Canadian cottagers.
According to a press release from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the villa, located at the Harbor Village Villas, was raided by a Border Patrol canine team after responding to suspicious activity. A total of nine duffel bags filled with cannabis were found throughout the property.
Global News later reported that a New York City resident named En Li was arrested during the raid and has been charged with first-degree criminal possession of cannabis. Supposedly, Li smuggled the marijuana across the St. Lawrence by boat.
Global News added that since Canada legalized cannabis last year, the border patrol agents at the Wellesley Island Station and Homeland Security on the St. Lawrence have seen a major increase in cannabis seized.
Harrison Jordan, a cannabis lawyer based in Toronto, says the issue around cannabis crossing the border has only grown more complicated since Canada legalized the drug. Cannabis is still illegal in the U.S., and it is illegal to import or export cannabis to or from Canada without proper documentation. Without proper documentation, it’s considered smuggling and the border patrol takes that very seriously. Smuggling is “definitely illegal to do and you risk arrest for any quantity of marijuana or cannabis,” Jordan says.
He adds that as an individual it is possible to receive special authorization from the Canadian government to import or export cannabis, but “those applications are successful rarely.” Jordan does clarify that you are legally able to bring cannabis from Canada into another country if you receive an export permit from the Canadian government and an import permit from the government of the country you’re importing to. This, however, is nearly impossible to accomplish with the U.S. as they do not issue import permits for cannabis.
There are, however, extraordinary circumstances where Canadian companies have successfully imported cannabis into the U.S., Jordan says, like when Tilray, a pharmaceutical company, worked with the U.S.’s Drug Enforcement Administration to import the drug for clinical trials.
There is one grey area around importing and exporting cannabis between Canada and the U.S., Jordan says, and that’s when it involves Cannabidiol (CBD) products. In Canada, CBD is considered cannabis and falls under the same jurisdiction as marijuana and all THC-related products, whereas in the U.S., “the government has removed federal prohibition against industrial hemp, which is defined as cannabis grown that has up to .3 per cent THC.” This means that CBD products produced from industrial hemp with less than .3 per cent THC are legal and are not placed in the same category as marijuana.
Jordan says that this strict reading of the law theoretically means that CBD products should at least be able to be transported across state lines and potentially into the U.S. from Canada. But just recently, a Canadian women was facing a lifetime ban from the U.S. for bringing CBD oil across the border. “Later on in the week, it came out that they were going to reverse the prohibition on her,” Jordan says. “We don’t know if that’s an out-right policy change or if it just applies to her.”
While the two countries sort out their laws around the import and export of cannabis and cannabis-related products, Jordan says you won’t be able to bring anything into the U.S. without proper documentation. And trying to smuggle cannabis in or out is definitely not advisable.
Since legalization, Canada has cracked down on illicitly obtained cannabis. Before cannabis was legalized, you were charged with a summary offence (a less serious offence) for having up to 30 grams of cannabis on you. “Whereas now,” Jordan says, “if you possess even one gram of illicit cannabis in Canada, it’s a hybrid offence, which means they could actually finger print you and bring you to the police station.”