Myles Wilkinson won a fantasy football league contest in which the grand prize was an all-expense-paid trip to this week's Super Bowl in New Orleans. But when Wilkinson, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, tried to board his flight to the United States at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, U.S. customs agents stopped him, citing his 1981 conviction for marijuana possession. Wilkinson's offense involved about two grams of pot and resulted in a $50 fine, but now he is forever barred from entering the United States. Dana Larsen, a marijuana reform activist, told CBC News such experiences are common. About 3,800 people are arrested for marijuana possession in British Columbia each year, Larsen said, so "every day 10 more British Columbians face the lifetime stigma of a possession charge."
Drug users can be stopped at the border even if they were never convicted. Andrew Feldmar, a Canadian psychotherapist, has been prevented from visiting his children, friends, and colleagues in the U.S. because a border agent's Web search turned up a journal article in which Feldmar discussed his experiences with LSD and other psychedelics in Canada and England during the 1960s. Here is how a Department of Homeland Security official explained the underlying policy: "Anyone who is determined to be a drug abuser or user is inadmissible. A crime involving moral turpitude is inadmissible, and one of those areas is a violation of controlled substances [law]." Under that policy, even a Canadian who smoked pot in Denver or Seattle, where marijuana consumption is legal, would be barred from ever visiting the United States again if that fact came to the attention of U.S. officials.
The Canadian government also bars people based on minor offenses committed long ago, including drug possession, but it seems to require an actual conviction. If it copied the U.S, policy of banning anyone who has ever used an illegal drug, whether or not they got caught, half of all Americans—including our last three presidents—would be prohibited from entering Canada.
Addendum: Charles Oliver noted Wilkinson's aborted trip this morning.
[Thanks to Jamie Aron for the tip.]