Though cannabis tourism was certainly contemplated by Washington State’s recently enacted Initiative 502, cannabis products leaking into other non-recreational markets is a concern for both Federal and state governments, especially in areas that border states where cannabis is still illegal. Not to mention the international drug crime issues that arise for border crossers into Canada. How might I-502 affect this? The answer is that cannabis is still a Federal crime and nothing changes the fate of border crossers who violate US Federal and/or Canadian cannabis laws.
Individuals (21 or older) need not be residents of Washington to acquire or use cannabis for recreational use while in the state. This means that people can and will come to Washington to purchase and use recreational cannabis. This also means that legal issues are bound to arise when these people return to their home states or countries with Washington grown cannabis. In addressing “leakage,” Washington’s Governor Inslee has made clear that “it is Washington’s responsibility to show the federal government we will be a responsible entity,” while also optimistically stating that “the federal government probably won’t be too concerned about marijuana sold in stores making its way across the borders. The limit of one ounce per person in the new law is likely too small of an amount for federal agents to worry about.”
As cannabis lawyers, we are not so sure Governor Inslee got that later point quite right and we caution our clients not to cross any borders (but especially the US/Canada border) with cannabis. US Customs and Border Protection agents routinely roam the Canadian border looking to bust Americans and Canadians seeking to cross the border with marijuana. US Customs recently made very clear that “state initiatives did not change federal law.”
The bottom line for border crossers? I-502 does not change the Federal status of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance and so no one should consider taking cannabis out of the State of Washington. Even if the Federal government relaxes its enforcement and defers to state law within Washington, we fully expect it will continue prosecuting interstate and international cannabis movement. Crossing a border with marijuana is just not worth the risk.