How to Enter the U.S. as a Marijuana User

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The Trump administration’s crackdown on marijuana has begun, but it’s not in Colorado, Washington or anywhere else in America where cannabis is legal. Instead, the “greater enforcement” around marijuana, hinted at by officials in the White House and Justice Department, has been at the border.

As Leafly News reported at length in a three-part series last week, foreign nationals, green-card holders and would-be U.S. citizens have been denied tourist and business visas and rejected for U.S. citizenship after admitting marijuana use to customs and border officials—even if the marijuana was legal medical or recreational marijuana, used in accordance with state law.   

This was going on when Barack Obama was still president—and was the cause of tension between the U.S. and Canada, after a Canadian citizen was denied entry into the U.S. after admitting to a border guard that, yes, he’d once smoked marijuana.

The policy is “ludicrous,” as one Canadian official said at the time, but it stands: If you are found to have used marijuana at any time, and you are not a U.S. citizen, you can be barred from entering the country—forever.

And under Trump, as more and more states allow adults access to marijuana, immigration experts expect marijuana-related scrutiny to intensify.

As immigration attorneys told Leafly, border officials are looking for the tiniest shred of evidence to support asking you about your marijuana use. This includes searching your cell phone photos, email and social media accounts—and any other data you may have on your personal electronic device. For these reasons, immigration experts are warning non-citizens and citizen hopefuls to erase any and all references to marijuana from their digital lives.

This is a real risk.

Under Trump, searches of personal devices like computers and cellphones have skyrocketed, to more than 5,000 a month. And if a foreign national is asked to hand over a device to a border agent, and that foreign national declines, access to the U.S. can be denied.

So how do you enter the U.S. safely and honestly as a marijuana user?

And how do you make sure, citizen or not, that you aren’t unwittingly providing border officials all the evidence they need to make your life difficult?

Via Leafly and the New York Times, here are a few recommendations for locking down both your vital data, as well as yourself, for entry into the U.S.

First, your phone.

As the Times reports, overseas travelers—among them at least one American citizen—have been coerced into surrendering their personal electronic devices to U.S. Customs officials. Here’s where Americans have a leg up.

“Legally, citizens are not required to unlock their cellphones or share their passwords with United States government officials,” the New York Times reported.

But even if you do, you can start smart if you have nothing to hide. If overzealous customs and border guards are looking for something incriminating, let them look—especially if there’s nothing for them to find: No data, no photos, no email accounts and no apps. But how do you go about having no digital footprint in the digital age? (This should also go without saying, but don’t try to enter the U.S. while carrying cannabis. If you’ve come this far, you can make it to Colorado.)

Have a cheap device solely for travel. Since you’re traveling anyway, why not bring an inexpensive “travel device” rather than your $700 iPhone? There are affordable Android phones in the $100 range that come unlocked so that they can be used overseas or on the other side of the border. This way, the only photos you’d come back with are travel snaps. Provided you did not film an episode of Strain Hunters on your trip, you should be fine. (And if you did, make sure you are already an American citizen.)

Protect your device—by forgetting your password and disabling your fingerprint scanner.

It’s hard to access a device without the key. So what if you lost the key—on purpose? If you normally unlock your device with a fingerprint scanner, turn that off for your entry into the U.S., the Times suggests. This way, authorities can’t compel you, via a warrant or a simple ask, to unlock your device with that method.

You can also honestly deny them access to your device if you honestly don’t know your password. How do you do that??

The Times suggests two methods of honest ignorance, while not getting locked out of your own device forever. There are password-management programs like LastPass that create incredibly complicated passwords for each of your devices, kept in an online “vault,” which is then opened via a single master password. You could keep the password vault on a Cloud service which you access only after you’ve reached your destination—or you can write your passwords down and give them to someone you trust, who would then read them off to you after you’ve cleared the border.

Keep everything in the cloud. It’s much more difficult to get access to data stored in the cloud than it is to score entry to the physical device—so give them a device, devoid of everything. Before you board the plane, upload everything you might need to the cloud—then delete all data from your phone. The empty shell will be of no use to anyone—and you can restore everything from the cloud once you’re out of the danger zone.

So now that you’ve secured your device, all you have to worry about is your person.

Again, don’t give border guards any ideas. Remove any and all references to legal marijuana and legal marijuana states from your wallet, purse and person. This will reduce the likelihood that the cannabis question even comes up. This would include swag from Spannabis, a medical-marijuana card from the U.S., anything.

If they do ask you, as a non-citizen, you have a real dilemma.

While it may seem simple and easy to deny visits to Colorado and the dispensary, we are forced to advise you that you must not lie, as lying is grounds for a later charge of perjury, which would also guarantee no entry into the U.S.

At the same time, if you remain silent, which is your right, you can also be denied entry into the U.S., according to Leafly. At the least, you will be invited for a lengthy one-on-one interview in a secure room with border officials.

Above all, do not give yourself away. Do not volunteer information that reveals your own cannabis use, either via your electronic device or from your own lips. This way, you at least have a chance.

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