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Cannabis

‘Playing with fire’: What to know if you’re getting on a flight with cannabis

WATCH: Prospective Canadian cannabis investor gets lifetime U.S. entry ban

Flying within Canada with cannabis isn’t against the rules — but it may not be the smartest decision, according to an immigration lawyer.

The issue arose this week when a domestic Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver was diverted to Seattle. Some passengers on the flight reportedly raised concerns about whether they would be penalized for carrying the plant, even though it’s legal in Canada.

Les Saunders, a U.S.-based immigration lawyer, says that travellers might want to leave their cannabis products at home, even if travelling within Canada.

READ MORE: Flying high: rules surrounding passengers carrying cannabis at Canadian airports

“It’s playing with fire,” he said. “Canadians have to be careful when they’re on flights back and forth across Canada. I wouldn’t carry any of that stuff if I was a Canadian travelling by airplane.”

Saunders says the consequence of U.S. customs finding your cannabis could be a ban for life from the country, even if you weren’t meant to enter the U.S. or are in a state that has legalized cannabis, such as Washington state, because cannabis is still a controlled substance federally.

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“It’s a lifetime bomber,” he said.

Saunders says he sees similar cases all the time when Canadians accidentally enter the U.S. by car.

Cannabis and cross-border travel Q &A
Cannabis and cross-border travel Q &A

In those cases, they get what’s called a “zero-tolerance fine,” which is about $500, according to Saunders, and the border agent will deem the person inadmissible because they were found in possession of a controlled substance.

It is currently legal for adults to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in Canada, but illegal to cross the border with any cannabis products.

Cannabis products are already becoming more ubiquitous as different demographics give them a try — Saunders says seniors are starting to use it to treat arthritis — and will become more varied once edibles and lotions hit Canadian store shelves in December.

One option for air travellers who find themselves unexpectedly across the border with cannabis is to get rid of the stash on the plane, according to Saunders, but he’s not sure airlines can allow people to do that.

READ MORE: Travelling to Singapore? You may be drug tested for cannabis, Travel Canada warns

Ultimately, Saunders says it’s the personal responsibility of passengers to know what could happen, but the Canadian government and the airlines have a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to warn passengers of the risks of carrying cannabis products.

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Currently, there are no warnings about cannabis products in the terminal for domestic flights, according to Saunders, but there are for international flights.

However, Air Canada’s website does warn customers about the possible consequences of carrying cannabis on domestic flights if the flight is diverted.

“If you are refused entry into a country because you have cannabis in your possession, you alone will be responsible for the consequences, including for payment of your return trip home,” the website reads.

Americans will be allowed back in U.S. after cannabis use in Canada
Americans will be allowed back in U.S. after cannabis use in Canada

In the recent example of the Air Canada flight on Nov. 3, passengers had to clear customs due to a mechanical issue found on the plane and had the option to stay in a hotel, but the airline says there were no reported issues clearing customs.

“I wouldn’t want to be one of those people,” Saunders said.

-With files from Maham Abedi