Immigrants and Marijuana: Here’s What You Need to Know

There’s a lot of confusion about marijuana. Laws are changing fast, both in many US states and around the world.

Our office handles both immigration issues and federal drug crime defense, so we run into this issue on a regular basis. Here’s what you need to know.

Immigration is a federal legal matter, which means federal law applies.

Marijuana might be getting increasingly decriminalized here in New York, but those are state laws. It could be completely legal and sold in convenience stores on every street corner and it wouldn’t matter to immigration until federal laws changed.

As of right now, most marijuana crimes can render you ineligible for immigration benefits, including both green cards and citizenship applications. You might be able to get a waiver if you were caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use, but it still doesn’t look good on your application and could prompt immigration officers to look for other reasons to deny you.

If you are not a legal immigrant, marijuana crimes are currently cause for deportation.

Working in the marijuana industry counts as a drug crime for immigration purposes.

Don’t even take a job as a secretary for any cannabis company. Even if you don’t handle the drugs at all federal law may still see you as a “drug trafficker.” 

The federal government isn’t going after cannabis companies, but it will absolutely deny benefits to immigrants who take jobs in that industry.

Laws and attitudes are changing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

On March 9, 2021, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) proposed a bill that would ensure that prior marijuana use could no longer be used to deny someone US Citizenship.

“According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a person who admits to using cannabis—even in compliance with state law—is morally unfit for citizenship. The agency clarified that position in a 2019 memo, adding that employment in a state-legal marijuana market is another factor that could impact a person’s immigration status.

The congressman’s bill, which was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, specifically carves out an exemption for applicants who admit to having used, possessed, or distributed cannabis. It would also remove another stigmatizing question—”Have you ever been a habitual drunkard?”—from the naturalization form.”Marijuana Moment

There may be a proposed bill but it has not become law. Even if it does, you’d be better off avoiding marijuana until it becomes legal at the federal level. 

You might have recourse if you only used in your own country and disclose that before attempting to come to the United States.

If you are applying through an embassy in your own country and disclose marijuana use you may be able to get a visa after promising to, and managing to, stay drug-free for a year.

An attorney can help you discover your options before you talk to anyone at all though, so make sure you’ve discussed your situation with one before you attempt to apply for any US immigration benefit. 

Even marijuana paraphernalia can threaten your immigration application.

Got pro-legalization posts on your social media? That could be used against you. Have a photo of you floating around on the Internet that shows you wearing a marijuana t-shirt? Same thing.

Unfortunately any reference to marijuana use or a pro-marijuana stance could be used to deny you on the basis of not having “good moral character.” 

Need help? 

If you’ve already had a past with marijuana and “just steering clear” isn’t an option, reach out to our offices. We offer both immigration help and criminal defense help. Both expertises work together to ensure you get what you need.

See also: 

Building a Defense for Federal Drug Trafficking Charges

What to Do If You are an Immigrant Accused of a Crime

What to Do When the Police Want to Search Your New York Home


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