A Surrey, B.C. man has been barred from entering the U.S. after confessing to border officers he had smoked marijuana recreationally – something that is legal in Washington State.

Ted Gilliat, 46, often goes to Point Roberts, Washington with his two young daughters to visit his in-laws. He was headed down on Aug. 21 for a family picnic when he was pulled aside by border personnel and interrogated for more than four hours.

Eventually he was asked if he had ever used or knowingly possessed marijuana, and said yes – a confession that led to being barred from entering the U.S.

“I should have lied,” said Gilliat. “I don’t understand how they can do this… I’m a good, easy going, honest guy.”

Gilliat’s situation is unique: in 2005, he was caught with 11 grams (less than 0.4 oz.) of marijuana while crossing the same border by bicycle. He was never fined or prosecuted, and was allowed to return to Canada.

In 2011, Gilliat was declared free to come and go from the United States after applying to the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Admissibility Review Office for what is called a September Letter, papers that state he was involved in an incident but cleared of any wrong doing.

His current situation developed on Aug. 19, when Gilliat attempted to cross the border without the September Letter, something he says he has done frequently in the past. He was turned away, and when he tried to cross the border two days later with the letter his interrogation troubles began.

U.S. immigration lawyer Len Saunders says it’s not relevant for entry to ask people who have never faced drug-related charges – and who aren’t carrying drugs on them – if they have used illegal substances in the past.

“It’s none of their business, it’s not relevant to an entry,” said Saunders.

“I think most Canadians want to answer questions honestly. But they don't know answering honestly could create a lifetime ban.”

This isn’t the first such incident in recent years: Vancouver psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar was barred from the U.S. in 2006 for using LSD as part of a scientific study decades ago – when it was legal. 

As for Gilliat, he now faces an expensive and lengthy legal process to obtain a waiver – and he won’t be crossing the border until he does. 

“I wouldn’t be here if I had lied,” he said. “I would be going down to Point Roberts this afternoon to fly kites [with my daughters] instead.”

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Sarah MacDonald