Travelling with cannabis on domestic flights in Canada is legal, but what happens when your flight gets diverted to the US?
That’s the situation that unfolded recently on an Air Canada flight travelling from Toronto to Vancouver on November 3, when the pilot announced the plane needed to land in Seattle due to mechanical issues.
Air Canada flight AC125 left Toronto at about 7:15 EST and was scheduled to land in Vancouver at 9:15 pm PST.
Harold Wax, a Toronto-based security executive who works in the real estate sector, was a passenger on the flight and tells Daily Hive that the plane was “literally wheeled down almost on the ground” when there was a “change of thrust and pitch and the aircraft started to increase in altitude.”
Wax says the pilot got on the PA system and announced that due to the dense fog in Vancouver, he was unable to land manually and was going to attempt the landing again using the autoland system.
During the second attempt, Wax says the plane once again began increasing in altitude, and that’s when the pilot announced the autoland system malfunctioned and he would have to abort the landing again.
The pilot informed passengers that policy requires the plane to refuel if there have been two aborted landings and the flight would be diverted to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to do so.
Passengers initially thought they wouldn’t need to disembark from the plane, but after an hour of waiting on the tarmac, they learned the aircraft had a mechanical problem requiring it to be grounded, and they would have to get off and officially enter the US.
“So now people are going, ‘Wait a second, we have to get off the plane and go to the US? Like how is this going to work?'”
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Wax says he wasn’t too concerned because as an avid traveller, he came prepared with his NEXUS card, his passport, and foreign currency. But the passenger beside him was wondering how it would work for those who didn’t have proper documentation to enter the US.
“And I kind of chuckled and I said, ‘Well, it’s not only that, I wonder how many passengers on this plane have cannabis or CBD oil,'” Wax told Daily Hive.
According to Transport Canada, air passengers travelling on domestic flights are able to possess 30 grams of cannabis in their carry on or checked baggage, but it is illegal to bring any cannabis over the border into the US.
He says the passenger’s eyes “literally popped out of her skull” because she realized that she was travelling with CBD oil.
Wax advised her to dispose of the product in the aircraft’s lavatory before disembarking.
“The greater concern [is that] you hear it right now in the media, you know, all these stories of people crossing the border and it’s part of the questioning if they admit to the past use of cannabis they’re getting, you know, five-year or lifetime bans.”
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Heather Segal warns that travelling with cannabis on a domestic flight that gets diverted to the US can result in very serious consequences.
“On a strict reading of the letter of the law, your worst possible case scenario is that [you] could be charged with trafficking. Bringing in an illegal substance — a controlled substance — into a foreign country, now that’s a criminal issue and it’s an immigration issue,” she said.
“Criminally […] there’s an intent component but often immigration rules and inadmissibility are stricter than criminal ones.”
Segal explains from an immigration standpoint, bringing drugs that are illegal into the US –even unintentionally as in the case of the diverted flight — is regarded as trafficking by immigration standard and would lead to someone being permanently barred from the US.
“So if you ever wanted to move there on a permanent basis, you could be permanently unable to ever move to the United States. There’s temporary waivers available but not permanent ones.”
Segal says her best advice for Canadian travellers is to not travel with cannabis at all.
“My thoughts are don’t carry it,” she said. “Don’t carry it at all when you’re travelling, even when it’s domestically, or don’t carry it and have it on your person, should you be landing in that foreign country.
“It’s very unlikely that this situation will happen but the ramifications are so serious that you absolutely want to be super cautious. This is how you can protect yourself.”
Although possession of cannabis is legal in the state of Washington, the Government of Canada warns “it remains illegal under US federal laws” and Canadian travellers should “not attempt to cross the Canada-US border with any amount of cannabis in any form, even if you are travelling to a US state that has legalized possession of cannabis.”
The airline’s website reminds travellers that it remains “illegal to travel across the border and internationally with cannabis (marijuana) in your possession.”
According to Air Canada’s Cannabis and Travel Policy, in the case of unforeseen situations that require a domestic flight to divert to a US airport, where arriving in possession of cannabis is not legal, the passenger “alone will be responsible for the consequences, including the payment of your trip home.”
Daily Hive reached out to Air Canada for further comment but did not hear back before publication.