Tips for Canadians Caught with Marijuana at U.S. Border, Washington State, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens County

While marijuana is not legal in British Columbia, its possession in smaller quantities is certainly more tolerated then in Washington State. And for a B.C. resident, being caught at the U.S. border with even the smallest amount of marijuana can be a harrowing experience. A marijuana possession charge in B.C. is often handled by a single police officer who conducts a search and then may or may not write a ticket. But in recent years at the U.S. border, Canadians caught with marijuana have been detained up to 8 hours while numerous federal agents search every nook and cranny of their vehicle and personal belongings, while others agents watch with one hand on their holster. I have lived and practiced law in Washington State’s border counties since about 1994, and while policies of marijuana in other law enforcement agencies have loosened, it seems that the federal agents take marijuana more seriously then ever. Since the 9/11 bombing in 2001, the number of agents at the border has tripled, but I am not sure how much safer the area has become. Marijuana at the border is such a distraction for federal agents, that one can imagine that if terrorists did want to enter the country that all they would have to do is send an advance guard of otherwise law abiding British Columbians with a gram or two of cannabis in their possession. I sometimes wonder if high-level U.S. officials resent the Canadians because a lot of the marijuana in Washington does come from British Columbia. Whatever the reason, Canadians are often shocked at the treatment at the border, and here are a few tips from a criminal defense lawyer on how to survive:

  1. Be alert of the border locations. It is common to hear of a traveling Canadian stumbling upon a U.S. Border station on accident. Many of the major routes travel along or near the U.S. border. It is a common misconception to believe that you can approach the border and then ask to just loop around. However, once you approach the border station, you have already entered the territorial U.S. Occasionally, Canadians will simply drive near the border to wait for a friend arrival. Be aware of any signs that warn travelers with the following language: ‘Beyond this point all traffic must proceed directly to the border.” In other words, if you travel near enough to the border, you will find American officials waiving you in.
  2. Exercise your right to remain silent. I can’t say I know a lot about Canadian constitutional law, but in the U.S. you have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. And you need not wait until an agent reminds you of that right. If marijuana is found in your vehicle, do not make any statement admitting that you knew it was there. If the marijuana is in your suitcase, this might seem like a no brainer, but no one knows that your partner couldn’t have just left it there, and you just dropped him or her off 15 minutes prior.
  3. You can’t talk yourself out of being charged. The agents couldn’t care less if the marijuana was a small amount or was personal use, your will always be cited and receive papers prohibiting your re-entry. I have seen marijuana cases referred for court in Okanogan, Ferry and Stevens County in the amount of .1 gram. And .1 gram is about the size of a grain of rice. The agents might imply that they will be lenient if you are cooperative, but I have never seen that to be true. Although some local law enforcement agents might let someone go without charging them, this just never happens with marijuana at the border.
  4. Know what to expect. While the federal border agents might seem gung ho about finding marijuana in your vehicle, keep in mind that their federal counter parts in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Spokane won’t take the case if the amount of marijuana is relatively small. And by “small” I mean less than a hockey bag full. Let me explain this a little better. Bringing any amount of marijuana across the border is a federal offense in the United States, but in practice you will be referred for charges in State court in Ferry County, Okanogan County, or Stevens County. Once in state court, you could face up to 90 days jail for a misdemeanor marijuana charge, but will likely receive 1 day in jail or less. For possession of marijuana in an amount over forty grams, you could potentially face felony charges. For more on punishments see here and here.

In conclusion, there are many cultural difference between how the local Canadian authorities and U.S. Border agents view marijuana. Maybe in a future blog posts we can discuss how the Canadian border agents freak out when Americans show up with a car load of firecrackers, or handguns, or tazers.

What do you think of the way U.S. Border agents treat these cases? If you have a story you would like to share, please post it as a comment below.

15 Responses to “Tips for Canadians Caught with Marijuana at U.S. Border, Washington State, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens County”

  • glacier:

    yeah that is off the wall. they seem to take it as a personal affront that anyone in bc would smoke weed. everyonce in a while i like to roll a joint and mail it anonomously to the border patrol field office in seattle just to taunt them

  • Taxpayer 32:

    I was working on a yacht and we stopped in Prince Rupert so we had to go to US Customs at Friday Harbor. The Customs guy searched my stateroom and found some of my tools and PVC piping that I had laid there after working on our hot tub. He tried to tell me that the 1″ PVC and a 90 degree elbow constituted a pipe! Are you kidding me? No residue, no drugs, no nothing and this moran tries to tell me I have a hash pipe. I showed him the new parts (similar) installed on the hot tub but he still wrote up a report saying he had found a “hash pipe, no resin”. What a joke, these people really need to get a life.

  • Steve Graham:

    Taxpayer, that is just nuts! I just don’t know what it will take for the madness to stop. I really don’t know what to make of all the nutty, paranoid things they do. They need to focus on preventing terrorist attacks already.

  • Wendy Franklin:

    It is amazing what the border patrol will do over a little pot. As you said in another post these are times of transitions for marijuana in the United States. We are spending millions of dollars per year on border security, and it is all being pissed away for a gram or two or weed here and there.

  • George:

    It kinda depends whose working there, and at what crossing. At the Osoyoos / Oroville crossing they seem a little more relaxed, but if you go through Midway, Grand Forks / Danville, or Northport, then forget it

  • Vancouver boy:

    wow what a day lol, i went to the states today nov 23, 2011, i have my nextus pass, got pulled over for a random check lol, at the Peace Arch border! they found less then one gram of weed, they put me in lockdown at their cell in the border, got a crazy ass pat down, like wtf, over 10 cents of weed if i would had sold it lol,it was in my cup holder, like u cant even see it, it was that little, i got my nexus card taken away, and now i can never go down the states every again wow for like 8 days fuckin bs motherfuckers!

    • Steve Graham:

      That sucks. I have seen people charge for as little as 1/10 of a gram. When i looked at it, it was the size of a grain of white rice. It seems in eastern Washington, you will be referred for charges in the local county court. But that may not be as common in Whatcom county. I think there is a way to petition for early re-entry.

  • Vancouver boy:

    i mean 8 years!!

  • Vancouver boy:


  • Steve Graham:

    Yeah, but I would take your health care system anyday

  • Herbie:

    It would be interesting to hear from a barrister or solicitor in Canada to talk about his experience defending Americans (or Canadians) caught with marihuana coming into the Okanagan area from Washington state. The Canadian border official are probably more relaxed, but marihuana possession is still an offence in Canada, and they must do something to travelers caught with it. WHat sort of penalty or sentence does the Crown Counsel seek on these run of the mill marihuana cases?

  • Island Man:

    If I was caught at the border over 10 years ago am I allowed back in to the US…ever? It was for possession of Marijuana and paraphernalia. I was fingerprinted and detained. I made bail and left the next morning…the sheriff drove me to the border.

    Also, would I end up with a Canadian record for the misdemeanor as well since I handed some paperwork over to the Canadian border upon being dropped off by the county sheriff?

  • Nas:

    So back in 2006 I was driving along the border and running low on gas and GPS sent me to a gas station across the border. Made it to the booth asked if I could turn around they said no. Searched the vehicle and found about 15 grams of weed, it was for personal use since I was doing a few travel cross country with a friend. I received a $500 fine and that is all I remember I lost the paperwork back then and never paid it.

    fast forward 6 years, I am married, mature, 3 kids, and my wife wants to take a trip to LA, what are my chances of being allowed to enter and what can I do to guarantee entry?


  • abby123:

    I was going over to the US last month and i was using my sisters vehicle to go over and i got pulled inside. they found debris of marijuana on the floor of my vehicle and they said there was strong odor. and they didn’t find enough to charge me so they let me go. now every time i try crossing the boarder, i get pulled in and fully searched. how long is this going to keep happening for?

  • Tex Hooper:

    That is nice to know that you can let others do the talking for you. My brother just got arrested for grand larceny. It will probably be best if he just stays silent.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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