The Grass is Not Green for Green Card Holders and Potential Immigrants

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Marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law, which makes it is illegal to possess or distribute the drug.  Conversely, in a growing number of states it is legal to possess and distribute marijuana.  What does this mean?  Well, in the context of lawful permanent residents (green card holders or LPRs) who are wanting to apply for citizenship, it means some people could have a very big problem.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency charged with approving or denying LPR applications for citizenship.  USCIS applies federal law in adjudicating those applications.  In short, a person could very well abide by the law of a state and not run the risk of criminal prosecution, but still be denied citizenship by USCIS for breaking federal law.

USCIS recently issued clarification on its intentions stating that federal law “does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”  In fact, over the last several months there have been reports of USCIS denying citizenship to individuals who have been denied citizenship because they admitted to legally using marijuana or working in the marijuana industry.  While marijuana is not yet legal in Georgia, several people have asked us about potential effects of marijuana tourism – traveling to a state where marijuana is legal to consume the drug.  Clearly, based on recent reports and USCIS’s clarification, this will increasingly be a big roadblock on the path to citizenship.

Regarding this developing issue, it is important that individuals applying for citizenship heed the following advice:

  1. Do not smoke weed.
  2. Do not post marijuana-related pictures on social media that could give rise to USCIS suspicion.
  3. Do not get drug related tattoos (i.e. blunt, marijuana leaf).
  4. You and your spouse should not work in the legal marijuana industry. USCIS could potentially say that you directly or indirectly derived a benefit from illegal activity.
  5. Do not invest in the legal marijuana industry. USCIS could potentially allege that you derived a benefit from illegal activity.
  6. If you have already done any of the above, and an officer in an immigration interview asks you questions related to marijuana use, claim the Fifth Amendment.

It is also exceptionally important to note that “legal marijuana” could affect anyone who is applying for lawful permanent residence in the U.S.  Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a person is not eligible for admission to the U.S. as a lawful resident if they are convicted of or “admit having committed…a violation…relating to a controlled substance.”  For those hoping or trying to become lawful permanent residents it is even more important that you memorize and apply items 1-6 above.  Failure to do so could lead to denial of your application and potential deportation.

By all reports the marijuana industry is booming.  Many people are tempted to strike while the iron is hot.  Just keep in mind, under the Trump administration, USCIS is looking to turn that boom into an immigration bust.

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Dustin Baxter

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