A Vancouver man with no criminal record has been banned from entering the United States – just for being honest with a border agent.  

Elevator mechanic James Sward was interrogated about his drug history during a recent trip to Washington State, and decided to admit the truth: he was busted carrying pot as a teenager, though he was never charged.

But the real trouble came when he confessed he had smoked the drug. Sward’s entry was immediately denied and he found himself banned from the country for life.

“It’s guys like me that want to tell the truth, that want to just be honest, and the system worked against me,” Sward told CTV News.

U.S. border officials wouldn’t comment specifically on Sward’s case but confirmed that anyone who admits to past drug use can be deemed inadmissible.

Washington immigration lawyer Len Saunders said he has numerous clients in the same boat as Sward, and he always warns British Columbians to watch what they say to customs agents.

“They’re trying to set you up to be inadmissible, and you could require a waiver for the rest of your life,” Saunders said. “What I tell people is you never want to admit to ever, ever using or possessing illegal substances such as marijuana.”

Vancouver psychotherapist Andrew Felmar found that lesson out the hard way. He was banned in 2006 after border agents searched his name in Google and discovered a research paper he wrote admitting he used LSD in the 1960s.

“It’s totally unfair, totally unjust,’ Felmar said. “If they stopped everybody who has used illicit substances, nobody would be allowed into the United States.”

Felmar, whose ordeal was the subject of a comedy segment on The Colbert Report, has since obtained a visa to travel south of the border.

Swan, however, is out of luck. He said fighting the ban is “not worth it,” and that if he had a chance to take his failed crossing again, he’d simply choose to lie.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Scott Roberts