Cannabis Industry Nightmare: Getting Imports Seized by Customs and Border Protection
As business owners, we think a lot about what’s happening locally. In the cannabis industry, it’s necessary to be aware of local regulations, state laws, and national trends. But as your business grows, managing the challenges that come with international business can be overwhelming.
One of the most surprising problems businesses encounter occurs with overseas vendors and sellers. Even if you’re not selling or distributing products or services abroad, it can affect your business in a costly way.
Purchasing supplies, packaging, or other elements of your product from overseas can really help your bottom line by leveraging cost savings of foreign-made goods, but a necessary component of importing anything from outside is U.S. Customs and Border Protection – who can be your best friend or an absolute nightmare – even for Colorado cannabis companies.
Importing From Overseas
The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not only a federal agency, but it is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. Housed under the Department of Homeland Security, CBP is responsible for regulating our international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. laws and regulations. CBP patrols our northern border with Canada, southern border with Mexico, thousands of miles of coastlines, and (of course) every sea port and international airport in the U.S.
Because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and CBP is a federal agency, any cannabis-related products are likely to be flagged and potentially seized. But sometimes, they also flag completely innocent products; I’ve personally worked on cases where stashboxes, vape cartridges and batteries were seized and successfully returned.
When you import products from overseas, it’s not only possible, but likely that CBP can and will seize it on claims that it is to be used for an illegal purpose. This determination can be based on the product being imported, or the importer.
Many times this is a result of the importing company’s name or the receiving company’s name, if either incorporate any of the synonyms or puns for cannabis or marijuana (think a marijuana cultivator called “The Pot Farm, LLC” importing packaging). Even completely arbitrary names are flagged due to their cannabis-related marketing, packaging, or logo design. Keep in mind, CBP has the internet, too, and if an importer’s website or other internet advertising reveal it is a marijuana company, or even ancillary to the marijuana industry, that can prompt CBP to take action.
What Happens During a Import Seizure
Since CBP is regulating trade and enforcing export/import policy, they reserve the right to seize property that the agency reasonably believes does not comply with federal law.
Often this is an administrative error of some kind: business isn’t registered with the IRS or DEA, importer doesn’t have a valid license, or forms have not been completed to CBP’s satisfaction. While paperwork in itself can be a headache, these types of errors can generally be avoided with knowledge and preparation.
CBP has the right under federal law to examine any shipment imported into the United States. The importer is responsible for bearing the cost of that examination, however it may be passed onto your company as the buyer, so read your contract carefully – and if you are directly importing the goods, well you get the idea.
If your package is selected for examination, it will be transferred to a Centralized Examination Station (CES), which is a privately operated facility. They will completely unload your shipment, examine it for violations or illegal product, and (if it passes) repack your shipment – then bill the importer for their services.
Not only can this be an expensive detour, but it is a massive time suck, especially if your business depends on receiving that shipment to operate. The cost of moving your package to and from the CES can cost hundreds of dollars, alone.
How To Avoid Problems with CBP
The best way to avoid losing time and money from your package being seized by CBP is to do everything possible to ensure it isn’t flagged in the first place.
Don’t order direct to a cannabis-related business, especially if it includes the terms “cannabis”, “marijuana” or other synonyms in it’s business name. Accordingly, when establishing your company, don’t use “cannabis” or “marijuana” in your business name.
As you build and grow your company, you’ll inevitably create marketing materials and begin growing your visual brand. Before approving – and certainly printing, publishing, or ordering – any of these materials from overseas, have them reviewed by legal counsel familiar with cannabis law, so you’re not inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot.
And likely the most important step is to consult with your cannabis attorney before making a substantial purchase from an overseas vendor.
Planning on working with an international supplier? Schedule a consultation today to avoid costly problems with Customs and Border Protection.
ABCs of seed importation into Canada
This page is part of the Guidance Document Repository (GDR).
Note: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has published this document in order to provide technical information solely with respect to the various requirements of the Seeds Act and Seeds Regulations. The reader should, therefore, consider this document in light of the relevant provisions of the Seeds Act and Seeds Regulations. Should there be any discrepancies between this document and the provisions of the Seeds Act and/or Seeds Regulations, the provisions of the latter shall prevail. Other legislation may apply to the importation of seed into Canada.
The reader is also encouraged to view this document in its entirety to ensure that all applicable requirements are identified.
AI: authorized importer
AIRS: Automated Information Reference System
CBSA: Canada Border Services Agency
CFIA: Canadian Food Inspection Agency
CSGA: Canadian Seed Growers’ Association
CSI: Canadian Seed Institute
EDI: electronic data interchange
ICA: Import Conformity Assessment
ISC: Import Service Centre
PNT: plant with novel trait
RSE: registered seed establishment
SAC: seed analysis certificate
On this page
A. Applicable legislation
A person importing seed into Canada must comply with Canada’s Seeds Act and Seeds Regulations, and other applicable legislation.
This may include, but is not limited to:
- the Plant Protection Act and Regulations
- the Pest Control Products Act
- the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
- the Fertilizers Act and Regulations and/or
- the Canadian Environmental Protection Act
Additionally, municipalities, provinces and territories may have legislation relating to weedy plants (for example Weed Control Acts). Importers should review the weed legislation of the province into which they are importing.
Seeds that are pre-treated with pesticides are considered pest control products under the Pest Control Products Act and are illegal to import unless both the a) active ingredient and b) seed treatment product are registered in Canada for the purpose of treating the seed.
Because of this, importers of pesticide-treated seeds must provide an import declaration that contains:
- the name of the pest control product
- the name of the active ingredient and
- the amount of seed being imported
This declaration can be provided in the Goods Description field of the "eManifest" system used by the Canada Border Services Agency until their newer Integrated Import Declaration / Single Window (IID/SW) system is implemented in the spring of 2018.
The importer is also responsible for ensuring that all imported pesticide-treated seed is labelled properly, whether it be bagged or in bulk shipments, and that the imported seed is only treated with the pesticides included in the declaration.
If an importer has questions about their obligations under the PCPA , they can contact PMRA ‘s Pest Management Information Service or their local Regional Pesticide Officer.
The requirements in this document only pertain to seed for propagation purposes. Seeds being imported for human consumption, feed and/or food products are not subject to the requirements of the Seeds Act and Regulations.
The term “seed” is defined under the Seeds Act as “any plant part of any species belonging to the plant kingdom, represented, sold or used to grow a plant”.
It is the importer’s responsibility to provide the information required for seed importation outlined in Section C and Section D and to ensure that seed imported into Canada is in compliance with the applicable legislation.
B. References and contact information
See the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) for the import requirements of the Seeds Act and Seeds Regulations and of the Plant Protection Act and Regulations.
If a Plant Health Import Permit (CFIA/ACIA 5256) is required, apply for a permit using the CFIA/ACIA 5256 Form and submit your application to the Import Permit Office.
For information related to the importation of non-indigenous plant taxa, either not present in Canada or not yet widely distributed in Canada, contact the CFIA ‘s Invasive Plant Section.
Seed contaminated with soil, pests and/or weeds will be refused entry into Canada. Contact the Horticulture Section for more information regarding soil contaminants.
Any questions regarding the requirements for the importation of Plants with Novel Traits into Canada should be directed to the Plant Biosafety Office.
Any general inquiries regarding the importation of seed into Canada can be directed by sending an email to the Seed Section.
The National Import Service Centre (Toronto) contact information is:
The Eastern Import Service Centre (Montreal) contact information is:
Find the local CFIA office nearest to the point of import.
C. Seeds Act and Seeds Regulations requirements
The Seeds Regulations prescribe specific document requirements in order to import seed into Canada. This is necessary in order to verify that seed imported into Canada is free of prohibited noxious weeds and meets the minimum standards for purity and germination for the seed in question.
In order to import seed, the importer must provide a signed statement/declaration including the following:
- the name of the species or crop kind being imported Footnote 1
- the weight of seed being imported
- the lot designation of the seed (see Section E)
- the name and address of the exporter
- the name, address and telephone number of the importer
- for crop kinds requiring variety registration, the name of the variety (refer to the Seeds Regulations Schedule III )
- the country in which the seed was produced and
- the intended purpose of importation (see Section O)
Refer to the CFIA forms in Section G which were developed to facilitate the submission of import information.
The importer must also provide an acceptable certificate of analysis (see Section D) in order to ascertain freedom from prohibited noxious weed seeds, minimum purity standards and acceptable germination percentages.
Also refer to Section K for possible exemptions from these requirements.
D. Acceptable seed analysis certificate
Acceptable seed analysis certificates (SACs) may be obtained from:
- officially recognized laboratories
- CFIA accredited graders for large seeded crop kinds
- seed testing laboratories operating under the supervision of a Senior or Associate member of the Commercial Seed Analysts’ Association of Canada
- seed testing laboratories operating under the supervision of a Registered Seed Technologist registered by the Society of Commercial Seed Technologist
- a seed testing laboratory operated by or under the authority of a national or state government of a foreign country or
- a laboratory accredited by the International Seed Testing Association
E. Lot designation
The lot number or unique identifier is important for linking the information on various import documents. It must appear on the seed analysis certificate (SAC) and 1 or more of the other submitted documents, for example import declaration form, invoice or blend sheet. It is not sufficient for there to be a lot designation appearing only on the SAC , with no corresponding lot designation on other documents.
There is currently no clear space on the import declaration form for the provision of this information. Enter this information into Box 20 of the form “Other references”.
F. Seed importation paper flow
Note that this is a general description of the recommended paper flow when importing seed into Canada. This process may vary depending on the specific import.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) assigns each shipment a transaction number. The transaction number is a unique 14-digit number. This number is used to identify shipments at various times throughout the customs process. The CBSA assigns these numbers individually to shipments, or in bulk to brokers who can then assign them to shipments. Generally, a shipment has a transaction number prior to it arriving at the border.
In order to facilitate rapid processing of imports, importers are encouraged to submit all appropriate import documentation to the ISC well in advance of the seed being imported into Canada. Refer to the CFIA forms in Section G.
The authorized importer import process is described in Section M.
G. CFIA forms
Import information should be entered onto the Import Declaration Form ( CFIA/ACIA 4560 ). The importer must sign the declaration form and send it to the Import Service Centre (ISC).
The Import Service Centres and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) also require the use of a Request for Documentation Review form ( CFIA/ACIA 5272 ).
H. Seed import instruction notice
I. Separate and intact
J. Clearance decision
K. Exemptions from import documentation requirements
The following are exemptions from the requirements outlined in Section C and Section D:
Note: These are only exemptions from import documentation and not from the requirements of the Seeds Act and Regulations. The importer is responsible for ensuring that all requirements are met regardless of exemptions, including freedom from prohibited noxious weed seeds.
- Where the imported seed lot is 5 kg or less for large seeded crop kinds (such as peas, wheat, soybeans and corn) or is 500 g or less for small seeded crop kinds (such as alfalfa, tomato or canola), neither the import declaration information nor the seed analysis certificate need be supplied See Section Y for clarification of importations with multiple small seed lots.
- In order to determine whether the species is “large seeded” or “small seeded”, refer to Section Z. Species with 200 seeds or fewer per gram are considered large seeded. Species with more than 200 seeds per gram are considered small seeded.
- Where the seed is being imported for conditioning (refer to Section P) or for research purposes (refer to Section Q), the seed analysis certificates do not need to include information on the percent germination.
- Seed analysis certificates and import declarations are not required for lots of herb seed that are 5 kg or less, or for flower seed, tree or shrub seed, true potato seed, ginseng, seeds of aquatic plants or onion/garlic multiplier sets. Note: This exemption does not apply to wildflower mixtures or flower mixtures. Importations of seed lots of wildflower mixtures or flower mixtures that are greater than 500 g require an import declaration and a seed analysis certificate. Also refer to Section Y for an explanatory note regarding lot sizes.
- For non-pedigreed seed of forage species, the name of the variety need not be supplied on the import declaration. However, if a variety name appears on any documents accompanying an imported seed lot of a crop kind subject to variety registration, suggesting that the seed is of a variety not registered in Canada, that seed cannot be imported into Canada for sale.
L. Unregistered varieties and plants with novel traits (PNT)
Unregistered varieties may be imported into Canada for:
- seeding by the importer or
- sale pursuant to subsection 5(4) of the Seeds Regulations
However, unregistered varieties of wheat may only be imported into the former Canadian Wheat Board Area (as defined in subsection 2(2) of the Seeds Regulations) for:
- research or
- sale pursuant to subsection 5(4) of the Seeds Regulations
When importing seed of unregistered varieties, importers should be aware that they may be subject to additional regulatory requirements under Part V of the Seeds Regulations if the seed is derived from a plant with a novel trait (PNT ).
Plants with novel traits (PNTs) are plants that contain a trait that is:
- a new trait not present in stable, cultivated populations of the plant species in Canada or
- a trait in the plant species which is present at a level significantly outside the range of that trait in stable, cultivated populations of that plant species in Canada
Additional regulatory requirements are required for any imported seed or viable plant parts derived from PNTs . This includes fruit, tubers, seed and grains. PNT import requirements are outlined in Directive D-96-13 “Import Requirements for Plants with Novel Traits, including Transgenic Plants and their Viable Plant Parts”.
There are 2 exceptions where seed or viable plant parts derived from PNT do not require additional regulatory requirements.
- See a list of PNTs that have been authorized for unconfined release in Canada.
- Plants that are further developed from, and are considered substantially equivalent to, an authorized PNT are also exempt from PNT -specific import requirements provided that the intended use is similar, the plants do not contain any additional novel traits, and have not been subject to interspecific breeding.
In either exception, Plant Protection Act requirements may still apply.
M. Authorized importers
Registered Seed Establishments (RSEs) that have been registered as authorized importers (AI) upon the recommendation of the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI) need only provide their AI number along with the Request for Documentation Review Form ( CFIA/ACIA 5272 ) at the time of importation. They are required to inform their local CFIA office within 30 days of the importation and provide the information required by subsection 40(3) of the Seeds Regulations.
N. Pre-clearance by authorized importers
O. Purposes of importation
When completing the import declaration, the importer must declare the purpose of the importation. Under the Seeds Regulations, there are five purposes of importation:
(see Section S) includes conditioning for re-export (see Section P) (see Section Q) (see Section R) or
- sale/resale pursuant to subsection 5(4) of the Seeds Regulations
The term “conditioning” means to prepare by cleaning, processing, packing, treating or changing in any other manner the nature of a seed lot. Seed imported for conditioning is exempt from most standards under the Seeds Act and Regulations. However, the importer must provide an acceptable seed analysis certificate at the time of importation to show the lot is free of any prohibited noxious weed seeds. Prior to conditioning, this lot is to be cleared even though it does not meet a minimum grade standard, on the basis of the conditioning exemption. If imported seed will be further cleaned after arrival in Canada, contact the Import Permit Office.
The following are examples of what is considered research for the purposes of the Seeds Regulations only and should not be used to interpret any other regulations.
- Variety registration trials conducted for the purposes of generating data to be reviewed by a committee that is recognized by the Minister as a variety registration recommending committee; and
- Scientific evaluation, such as adaptation trials and/or pest control trials, conducted by a recognized university, provincial or federal department of agriculture or by a plant breeder recognized by the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA); or confined research field trials conducted under the authority of the Part V of the Seeds Regulations.
Note that where imported seed is to be crushed and analyzed for chemical purposes, there are no requirements under the Seeds Regulations as the seed is not being imported for propagation. Similarly, where seed is being imported for purity and germination analysis and not for further propagation, the seed is exempt from the requirements of the Seeds Regulations.
Additionally, be aware that there may be additional requirements under other regulations for seed of this kind, for example a plant health import permit as required under the Plant Protection Regulations. Refer to Section A for a list of additionally applicable legislation.
R. Seeding by the importer
Seeding by the importer is defined as the planting of seed on one’s own land or on land rented by the owner of the seed.
Sale is defined by the Seeds Act as including: agree to sell, or offer, keep, expose, transmit, send, convey or deliver for sale, or agree to exchange or to dispose of to any person in any manner for a consideration.
T. Seed importation fees
For the purposes of calculating fees:
“small shipment” means an imported seed shipment that weighs less than
There are no fees for the small shipments described above. For all other shipments by non-authorized importers, the fees are according the CFIA Fees Notice.
Authorized importers (AI) pay an annual authorization fee and are exempt from fees for individual shipments. Also refer to Section Y for further explanatory notes regarding seed importation fees and lot/shipment sizes.
U. Labelling requirements for seed upon import
Seed is exempt from most of the labelling requirements of the Seeds Regulations at the time of import pursuant to subsection 22(2). However, this exemption is not absolute; the seed must still be labelled with the following prescribed information at the time of import:
1. Seed that has been treated with a pest control product
Where seed has been treated with a pest control product, it must be stained with a conspicuous colour. The seed package must also be marked with the precautionary symbol and signal word prescribed by the Pest Control Products Regulations to indicate the nature and degree of risk inherent to the pest control product along with 1 of the following statements:
- “Do not use for food or feed. This seed has been treated with (common or chemical name of pest control product)” or
- “Ne pas utiliser pour l’alimentation des personnes ou des animaux. Cette semence a été traitée avec (nom commun ou chimique du produit antiparasitaire)”
Note that there are additional requirements under the Pest Control Products Act when importing seed that has been treated with a pest control product.
2. Label contains a claim that the seed is suitable for shady places
Note that the seed must meet the labelling requirements set out in the Seeds Regulations prior to being sold.
V. Non-traditional seed items
The Seeds Act and Regulations apply to the following:
- seed mixed with or attached to any fertilizer, soil, compost, peat, moss, mica, plastic, paper, cellulose or other material including artificial seeds (for example seed attached to paper gift cards that directs the purchaser that the packaging/card may be planted to grow plants, seed/fertilizer mixtures, seed coated with polymers, seed tapes, seed mats and lawn patch mixtures)
- seed designed to be grown in pots for grazing by domestic house pets (for example catgrass)
- seed marketed as for the production of Microgreens for human consumption
The applicable provisions of the Fertilizers Act and Regulations apply if a seed contains a fertilizer or supplement component as defined by the Fertilizers Act. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act may also apply.
Note that “catgrass” seed is not a recognized species but is rather the end use of a number of possible species such as wheat, barley and oats. It is important for importers to clearly specify the species or kind of seed as well as the variety being imported, for example, oats, barley, et cetera as catgrass. Forage oats are exempt from variety registration, and therefore can be imported and sold without being of a registered variety.
The following seed imports are not subject to the requirements of the Seeds Act and Regulations:
- items such as pottery objects with seeds for ornamental sprouting purposes (chia pet)
- seed for the production of sprouts for human consumption
- seeds that are attached to an item solely for decorative purposes (for example jewellery made of seeds or pens containing seed in clear tubes)
- seed not represented for the purpose of growing plants
- seed being imported for use in a food product such as mustard seed or cumin seed
- seed being imported for laboratory analysis including purity and germination and
- seed that is imported to be crushed and analyzed for chemical purposes
W. Seeds regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Importers of industrial hemp, in the form of seed, must be licensed by Health Canada. In addition to holding a licence, they are also required to obtain a permit from Health Canada for each shipment. For more information, contact the Office of Controlled Substances, Health Canada.
X. False and misleading information
It is a contravention of the Seeds Act to provide false or misleading information orally or in writing to an inspector or other officer engaged in carrying out his/her duties or functions under the Act.
- importing seed for own use (seeding by the importer) and then subsequently selling the seed and/or
- importing seed for research and then subsequently selling the seed
If following the importation, the importer’s intentions for the seed change, the importer must submit a revised import declaration to:
Similarly, importations of wheat as grain for food or feed use may not be subsequently used for the purposes of plant propagation unless the required importation documentation has been submitted to the CFIA ‘s ICA office and a notice of import conformity is issued.
Y. Lot size and seed importation fees explanatory notes
- When determining the weight of seed being imported for the purpose of determining fees and lot sizes, the weight of the seed refers only to the weight of the seed itself. The weight does not include any seed coatings, seed packaging material or any material to which the seed is attached, for example, seed tape.
- For the purposes of determining whether a “small lot” exemption applies, “seed lot” refers to a quantity of seed to which a unique identifier (such as a variety name or seed lot number) is assigned. There may be 1 or more packages that make up the seed lot being imported.
- If a seed shipment contains:
- 250 envelopes, each containing 1 g of carrot seed of a variety called “Fred” ( 250 envelopes x 1 g ) and
- the carrot seed is accompanied by equal lot sizes of tomato, beet, and bell pepper seed (3 x 250 g )
- the seed lot sizes are each 250 g and
- the total weight of the seed shipment is 1 kg (4 x 250 g )
- the individual seed lots would meet the small lot exemption (small seeded, <500 g ) (Section K) and
- the shipment would be subject to the minimum $15 import fee (shipment is more than 500 g but less than 1,500 kg ) (Section T)
Z. Approximate number of seeds per gram
- Species ≤ 200 seeds per gram = Large seeded species
- Species > 200 seeds per gram = Small seeded species
Source: Association of Official Seed Analysts, 2010
Importers are encouraged to provide both the common name and the scientific name of the species or crop kind being imported.
Cannabis at the border
The Cannabis Act, legalizing and regulating cannabis (marijuana), creates a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada.
Transporting cannabis across the border in any form – including any oils containing THC or cannabidiol (CBD) – without a permit or exemption authorized by Health Canada remains a serious criminal offence subject to arrest and prosecution, despite the legalization of cannabis in Canada. The prohibition applies regardless of:
- The amount of cannabis you have with you,
- Whether you hold a medical document authorizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes,
- Whether you are travelling from an area with legalized or decriminalized cannabis.
Don’t bring it in. Don’t take it out.
If you are entering Canada from another country, remember: if you have cannabis with you in any form, you must declare it to the Canada Border Services Agency. Not declaring cannabis in your possession at the Canadian border could also lead to arrest and prosecution.
If you are leaving Canada, remember: you may not take cannabis out of the country either. You may be subject to criminal charges if you attempt to travel to other countries with any amount of cannabis in your possession.
Only Health Canada retains the authority to issue permits or grant exemptions to import or export cannabis. They do so under very limited circumstances and for limited purposes: medical, scientific or industrial hemp. For importers with the Health Canada granted authority, please refer to Customs Notice 18-19 on calculating cannabis duty.
Laws for cannabis at the Canadian border
An explanation about the laws for cannabis at the Canadian border.