Immigration Risks of Legalized Marijuana

Immigration Risks of Legalized MarijuanaAs more US states move toward the decriminalization of marijuana and the legalization of medicinal or recreational use marijuana, the question for noncitizens remains a complex one, as federal laws prohibit marijuana use and is the controlling law with respect to a non-citizens immigration status.

Federal law has no marijuana exceptions for medical or other use. It is a federal offense to possess, give away, sell, cultivate, import or export marijuana. This includes any activity, commercial or otherwise, involving any part or derivative of the plant. There have been numerous bills introduced to reform federal drug laws to decriminalize medicinal or recreational use of marijuana. However, none have been successful and non-citizens should be extremely cautious about using marijuana or working in state sanctioned marijuana businesses.

Noncitizens residing in the states that have relaxed or legalized the use of marijuana may reasonably think that using marijuana in accordance with state law will not hurt their immigration status, or their prospects for getting lawful status. To the contrary, noncitizens may find themselves subject to deportation or unable to obtain lawful status as a result of their legal enjoyment of marijuana.

If you need help with an immigration matter, it can be overwhelming, and be hard to even know where to start looking for help or what options are available. Our attorneys at HAWM Law are ready, experienced and committed to helping immigrants at any stage of the US immigration process. You do not have to struggle through this process alone.

A criminal conviction is not necessary to trigger the negative immigration consequences of marijuana. A noncitizen who admits to an immigration official that she possessed marijuana can be found inadmissible, denied entry into the United States, or have her application for lawful status or even naturalization denied. Depending on the circumstances, it can make a lawful permanent resident deportable. This is true even if the conduct was permitted under state law, the person never was convicted of a crime, and the conduct took place in her own home. The key is that possession of marijuana remains a federal offense.

Immigration law treats any marijuana-related activity as a crime, with harsh penalties, even if it is permitted under state law. For nonimmigrants the rule of thumb is:

  • Stay away from marijuana until you are a U.S. citizen.
  • If you truly need medical marijuana and there is not a good substitute, consult with an attorney regarding the potential consequences and strategy.
  • Do not carry marijuana or a medical marijuana card.
  • Remove any text or photos relating to marijuana from your social media and phone.
  • If you have used marijuana or worked in the industry, get a legal consult before leaving the United States or applying for naturalization or immigration status.
  • Never discuss conduct involving marijuana with immigration, border, consular, or law enforcement authorities — unless your immigration attorney has advised that this is safe.
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