London, Ont. pensioner denied entry to U.S. because of 1976 pot conviction

A London, Ont. pensioner denied entry to the United States because of a pot conviction more than 40 years ago says border rules are unclear and "ludicrous." 

Back in 1976, Pierre Trudeau was Canada's prime minister, and the Le Dain Commission had wrapped up four years earlier, urging the repeal of Canada's pot laws.

The highest grossing movie in theatres was Rocky, and the CN tower opened to the public for the first time.

It was also the year the year Bev Camp, then 30, was busted for possession in British Columbia. 

Fast forward to February 2019 and Camp, now 73 years old and living in London, Ont., tried to fly to Florida to visit friends. He was denied entry based on that historic conviction. 

"[The conviction] was just so old and so small and so petty, I just thought, 'Gee, who's going to haul that up,'" Camp told CBC News. 

"There's no sense to it. You know you get some place and you have some faith that you've done everything right and made sure you have your stuff in the right place and you have your paperwork done."

Remi Authier/Radio-Canada

Camp had crosssed into Buffalo, NY, with no problem in January for a concert. But when he tried to fly to Florida on Feb. 9, he was asked by customs officials about that 1976 pot possession conviction. 

The Londoner had planned to visit friends he hadn't seen for up to 50 years, who live in Florida and who he'd never visited before. Some mental health struggles have made it difficult for him to pick up and go.

With some help, he booked a bus to the airport, his flights and finalized other travel plans just in time for takeoff.

But, things didn't go as planned.

He never thought a pot possession conviction from more than 40 years ago would be the cause of his cancelled trip — and his newfound reluctance to visit the U.S.

"It was really hurtful," he said.

Entry to USA denied

Camp, also known as "the Dancing Cowboy" for his groovy moves, boarded a bus from London, Ont. to Detroit, where he was set to catch a flight to West Palm Beach.

He was stopped at the border during luggage check and customs. He said a customs officer asked him about the 1976 pot possession charge.

Camp said he was denied entry to the States on the grounds of that conviction.

Camp said the minor conviction stemmed from an incident in British Columbia. He said he hasn't gotten in trouble with the law since then.

CBC reached out to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official who said in an email that an incident like Camp's "may occur."

"Possession and/or admission to the use of marijuana by an alien may result in the refusal of admission," a spokesperson said, noting there is a list of reasons for denied entry.

Travel warning in place

Although medicinal and recreational marijuana may be legal in Canada and some U.S. states, the sale, possession and distribution of marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law.

A CBP spokesperson said customs officers have the authority to question travelers about the use of illegal drugs during the inspection process.

There are more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility including those related to prior criminal convictions and miscellaneous grounds.

"Any arriving alien who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of, admits having committed, or admits committing, acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of (or an attempt or conspiracy to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the United States," a spokesperson said.

The Government of Canada released in October an online statement warning travellers about cannabis-related incidents.

Canadians can apply for a pardon of their past pot possession convictions. However, a CBP spokesperson said the U.S. does not recognize foreign pardons.

Camp, who still uses marijuana for medicinal purposes, said those rules are "ludicrous" and should change. He said the rules are also unclear because he travelled to Buffalo back in January for a concert, and got into the states without any problems.

He said his recent experience has changed his outlook on travel.

"I'm an older man … It's a really big undertaking," he said. "Just getting out and going somewhere is a big move for me."

"Truth be told, after this experience, I have no desire to go near a U.S. border. I'm too traumatized by it. I won't even dream about it again," he added.