Michael Gove’s admission that he took cocaine 20 years ago has triggered speculation that if he were to become the next British prime minister, he could be banned from visiting the US.
The embarrassing prospect of a future prime minister being turned back at the airport, which Gove dismissed as “foolish” on Sunday, threatened to damage the environment secretary’s campaign to lead the Conservative party.
But Melissa Chavin, an American lawyer based in London who specialises in US immigration regulations, said discretion is usually exercised by border officials.
“If they wanted to make a fuss over it they could, by saying he had an ineligibility for having a drug addiction. It’s not the crime they would be concerned about but the question of mental health inadmissibility,” she said.
If it were known someone had taken cocaine, Chavin added, normal procedure would be to approach the US embassy, which would refer an applicant to a doctor for an assessment.
“If the applicant was able to convince [the doctor] they had not taken anything for 15 or 20 years, he would be let in. It depends on the fuss the US want to make about it,” she said. The doctor could, alternatively, impose a six- or 12-month ban.
Nigella Lawson, who confessed during a court trial to taking cocaine, was prevented from boarding a flight to Los Angeles in 2014. US authorities invited her to apply for a visa shortly afterwards, promising the matter would be handled “routinely and expeditiously”. Her lawyers succeeded in obtaining a “waiver of inadmissibility” allowing her to travel to the US within a few months.
For professionals in the UK, drug use can be much more than a passing inconvenience. William Evans, a teacher who was cautioned for being in possession of cocaine after his home was raided by police in 2016, was banned from teaching indefinitely by a professional conduct panel. He was told he could apply for the ban to be set aside after three years.
William Bowes Mawdsley, a trainee solicitor who was found last year to have cocaine on him while working at a police station, was convicted of possessing a class A drug and banned from practising by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. He was also found guilty of driving a motor vehicle with excess alcohol and possessing cannabis.
In sport, the England batsman Alex Hales was handed a 21-day ban for recreational drug use in April, preventing him from joining the World Cup squad. Gove, discussing his own usage, later said he was “fortunate” not to have been caught and gone to prison.