By: Michael H. Sampson, Esq.
Apparently, the more things change, the more they do stay the same. Although medical and/or “adult-use” marijuana is now legal in many states, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ‘s (“CBP”) view of cannabis does not appear to have progressed. In a recent press release, announcing the seizure of 150 pounds of marijuana at Washington Dulles International Airport, CBP went out of its way to emphasize that “marijuana possession and distribution of any amount violates federal law.”
“While conducting routine outbound mail inspections,” the April 21, 2022 release stated, “CBP officers seized 62 parcels of marijuana…that weighed nearly 99 combined pounds and seized another 38 parcels…that collectively weighed a little more than 51 pounds. All 100 parcels and 150 pounds were destined to London.”
In the release, CBP also stated: “Though some states have taken measures to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of marijuana, bulk smuggling remains illegal.”
The release did not just address “bulk smuggling,” however. Instead, CBP gratuitously added: “Additionally, marijuana possession and distribution of any amount violates federal law.”
CBP’s focus on cannabis possession and distribution – no matter the amount – is an important reminder not just for Americans but also for foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States. It underscores the risk of trying to enter the United States – even from Canada where marijuana is legal and even into U.S. states where marijuana is legal – with any amount of cannabis.
Most notably, Canadians traveling to the United States should take note.
In a 2018 statement, CBP addressed “Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana and Crossing the Border,” stating: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforces the laws of the United States and U.S. laws will not change following Canada’s legalization of marijuana. Requirements for international travelers wishing to enter the United States are governed by and conducted in accordance with U.S. Federal Law, which supersedes state laws. Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. Federal Law. Consequently, crossing the border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension.”
A similar advisory still appears on the “official website of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada.”
According to a Law360 story discussing this week’s press release, Stephen Sapp, a CBP spokesperson, separately stated, “We understand some states have decriminalized cannabis, but you have to understand, to enter or leave the United States, you’re subject to federal law, and we have to take action.”
Underscoring CBP’s apparent antipathy toward the cannabis industry, or at least the agency’s unwillingness to take the industry seriously, the release seemingly mocked the industry, referring to marijuana as “wacky weed.” “There were likely a lot of upset Brits who were unable to properly partake in the 420 Day observance after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers intercepted a crazy amount of London-bound wacky weed this weekend at Washington Dulles International Airport.… The marijuana will be destroyed in a hazy blaze.”
Leech Tishman partner Michael H. Sampson co-leads the firm’s Cannabis Industry Group. Mike routinely advises clients doing or seeking to do business with or in the U.S. cannabis industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.261.1600.
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