Marijuana and Immigration Policy in the U.S.

Marijuana and Immigration Policy in the U.S.

There are a lot of taboos related to marijuana in India and many other countries. Its consumption and possession are still illegal in the country.

Some states in the U.S. have legalized the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. But there has been friction between the local and federal authorities regarding pot. The federal government is stringent and less tolerant of both local pot laws and immigrants.

As an immigrant in the U.S., you may feel that using marijuana according to state laws is okay. You may even think that it doesn’t hurt your immigration status. That’s wrong! Immigration is a part of federal law, and it is still a federal offense to possess marijuana.

What Is the Problem?

If you’re a non-citizen and admit to an immigration official that you have ever possessed marijuana, you’re in trouble. Even if you were never convicted of the crime, using marijuana at home is also against the U.S. immigration laws.

Don’t think that the federal government won’t take it seriously if your medical card record is spotless. By admitting to consuming or possessing marijuana, you’d give them a good reason to deny you U.S. citizenship. Some immigration officers ask non-citizens about their use of marijuana in the past. Especially if you’re living in states that have legalized marijuana, expect a lot of questions.

Admitting to possession or consumption of marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes can cause serious immigration problems when:

  • Applying for a green card
  • Applying for U.S. citizenship
  • Traveling outside the U.S.
  • Being questioned by ICE officials

Which States Have Legalized the Use of Marijuana?

These are the states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia (Washington DC)
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland (after July 1, 2023)
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Medicinal use of marijuana is legal in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.

Things to Know About Marijuana and Immigration Policy

  1. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug in the U.S., the same category as controlled substances like LSD or heroin. Dispensing, distributing, possessing, or manufacturing marijuana may lead to negative immigration consequences.
  2. Even the admission of the use of marijuana is a violation of federal controlled substance law. If you admit to consuming marijuana as a non-citizen, you will be refused naturalization.
  3. Inadmissibility and immigration laws are very harsh in the U.S. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 clearly states what a moral applicant should or shouldn’t be or do. If the consular officer knows or suspects any alien (non-citizen) to be an illicit trafficker of a controlled substance, he or she is considered inadmissible.
  4. The act isn’t limited to simple possession of marijuana. Growing the plant and extracting resin from the marijuana plant are also considered federal offenses. Every compound, derivative, salt, preparation, and mixture of the plant is illegal, too.

Can You Apply for a Green Card Waiver if You’ve Been Convicted?

You’re not eligible for a green card waiver if you’re considered inadmissible for reasons related to marijuana. This includes possession, trafficking, and drug-related crimes.

However, the officer may sometimes consider you if the offense is related to possession of 30 grams or less (about 1.05 ounces or less) of marijuana.

If you want to apply for a green card waiver, there are two conditions. You must have no more than a single offense of possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana. Alternatively, more than 15 years must have passed since you were convicted of the same offense. If 15 years have passed since the last offense, you need to show proof of rehabilitation. You are also required to prove that your admission is not contrary to the safety, welfare, and security of the U.S.

Can You Apply for a Non-Immigrant Waiver?

You may apply for a non-immigrant waiver if you’re inadmissible to the U.S. Rehabilitation and passage of time since the last use is the key to success. These waivers are granted discretionarily by the CBP.

On the presence of extenuating or mitigating circumstances, you are awarded merit points. These merit points help you in getting a non-immigrant waiver. These following factors are considered by the adjudicators while deciding on your waiver:

  • The seriousness of the underlying cause of inadmissibility
  • The nature of the reason to enter the U.S.
  • The risk of harm to society
  • Nature of the offense and the circumstances leading to it
  • How recently the offense occurred
  • Evidence of reform and rehabilitation
  • Whether the incident was a part of a pattern of misconduct or isolated

What to Do: Legal Self-Defense for Non-Citizens

  • Do not consume or possess marijuana.
  • Don’t work in the marijuana industry, even if you work merely in the administrative office.
  • You may have an urgent medical need, and no good substitutes for medicinal marijuana may be available. Get legal counsel first before consuming marijuana.
  • Never leave your house carrying marijuana or a medical marijuana card. Carrying paraphernalia (like a pipe) or accessories (like marijuana stickers and t-shirts) should be avoided when outdoors.
  • Do not have any marijuana-related texts or photos on your phone or anywhere else on social media. Immigrant officials may check these social profiles and find proof of you possessing or using marijuana.
  • Never discuss marijuana possession or use with any border or immigration officials. Unless and until you have expert legal advice for doing so, stay mum.
  • When interrogated by an immigration officer about marijuana, ask for a lawyer. You are within your legal rights to say that you don’t want to talk to them and want to speak to a lawyer.
  • Stay strong. You have the right to remain silent, and try not to incriminate yourself. Remember, once you admit to it, you can’t take it back.
  • If you admit marijuana possession or use to a federal officer somehow, get legal help as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean that you refuse to cooperate. Understand what is legal and what is considered withholding information from the federal government.

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