Colorado: Marijuana Is Legal In Some States - But Only If You're A U.S.Citizen
By Derrick Stanley
Marijuana may be legal in a growing number of states, but not many people know that it's still very much against the law for all non-U.S. citizens to use it. In fact, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has penalized and deported more people convicted of marijuana-related crimes in the past decade than ever before.
Claudia, a native of Chile, learned this the hard way after being flagged for an in-depth security screening after landing at Los Angeles International Airport on October 8, 2015. "It's normal," she says. "Sometimes the officers review people." Besides, she had never been in trouble in her life.
Agents directed Claudia into a big, open room where she was asked to place her luggage on a table for examination. Officer Torres, a customs agent, asked her about her planned one-week trip to San Francisco and made friendly small talk as he went through her suitcase and purse.
Torres asked Claudia about past trips to the U.S., and she told the agent of visits to Tennessee, Louisiana, New York, and Colorado. At the mention of Colorado, he asked to see her phone. He quickly began scrolling through photos from her last visit to the States from April to June of that year. "Can you do this?" she asked.
"Yes", he replied, which Claudia accepted; she had nothing to hide, after all.
The agent inquired about photos of her ex-boyfriend, Nate, and continued to scroll through photos until finding three photos she had taken inside Native Roots, a marijuana dispensary in Boulder. While looking at the photos of glass display cases of marijuana and edibles, he asked her if she'd tried any.
"Yes, I tried marijuana in Colorado," she answered. "It's legal there."
With those few words, Claudia immediately placed herself in the middle of a clash between state cannabis reforms and U.S. immigration's strict approach to marijuana. Husbands are being separated from wives, parents from children, all because of activities that are no longer crimes in many states.
Claudia thought everything was still fine, until the luggage search was concluded, and she was given a pat-down by two female agents and led to a locked, windowless cell with security cameras and several unhappy-looking people of various nationalities lying on bare metal cots.
Over the next twelve hours, she was questioned with the same questions each time: name, date of birth, country of origin, reason for this visit, and whether or not she'd tried marijuana.
"Marijuana isn't illegal. You could check GPS of where it was used, and I was in a legal place. It is legal in Colorado," she insisted.
None of that mattered to the agents. The y eventually told her she had a choice: She could stay in the United States in a detention center until her case went to trial - a process that could take weeks or even months - or she could be deemed inadmissible to the country. She chose the latter option.
"Admitting to the consumption of [a] controlled substance is an inadmissibility [sic] into the United States as well as an illegibility [sic] to obtain a United States visa," they told her, according to the transcript. "Do you understand?"
"I don't agree, but I understand," she responded in tears.
That night Claudia was given back her belongings and escorted by two officers onto a plane heading back to South America.
The Canadian government just last week began to push the U.S. to soften it's position at the border on legal marijuana users. Under these current rules Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is technically banned from entering the U.S. because he has previously admitted to using marijuana (as has President Barack Obama).
As for Claudia, she continues to fight, and may end up applying for a waiver, although she might wait four years to see who's elected president in 2020. "The two options you have for president this year scare me a little bit," she says. "I think they are both going to be worse on this specific topic."