Buzzkill: USCIS Set to Deny Citizenship for Immigrants Working in the Legal Marijuana Industry

Buzzkill: USCIS Set to Deny Citizenship for Immigrants Working in the Legal Marijuana Industry

Are immigrant cannabis workers risking deportation?

It’s a mantra in our office to warn immigrants that “legal” marijuana is not “legal” in the topsy-turvy world of immigration. As long as cannabis remains banned on Schedule I of the Federal Controlled Substance list, a conviction or any other conduct related to the use, possession, sale, transport or cultivation marijuana remains a federal crime, even where it’s legal on the state level. Now USCIS is explicitly putting the pressure on immigrants applying for citizenship who need to show good moral character (which we call GMC).

Just for some background to harsh your mellow … non-citizens, even immigrants with green cards, face three basic problems when it comes to marijuana and immigration status. Can ICE deport me? Can ICE or CBP try to keep me out if I travel outside the U.S.? Can USCIS deny my citizenship when I apply for naturalization?

In many cases, the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

When it comes to deportation, almost any conviction involving marijuana, except for simple possession of 30 grams or less, can get a non-citizen put in front of an immigration judge for a removal hearing.

The same holds true for non-citizens and green card holders who go on vacation out of the U.S. or are interviewing for a visa at the U.S. consulate. But even without a conviction, where an airport immigration officer or visa officer at the consulate learns about a non-citizen working for a cannabis enterprise, that would be reason enough to believe that the non-citizen is a CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE TRAFFICKER (that is not an exaggeration). With that legal finding, an immigration or consular officer could deny a non-citizen practically any immigration benefit or visa to the U.S.

Like we mentioned up top, USCIS is cracking down on immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship who need to show GMC and are affiliated with the cannabis industry. A new USCIS policy update is directing immigration officers to deny citizenship for moral character if there’s any doubt about whether the applicant is involved in state-legal cannabis. No criminal conviction is needed, and medical use is no defense. All that matters is the non-citizen broke federal drug laws by working in cannabis.

It’s not just citizenship that’s at risk. An immigrant working in a state-legal cannabis enterprise whose citizenship application is denied based on cannabis will likely have that information put in their computerized immigration file. That information could then be used by ICE or Border Protection against an immigrant at any time, especially when coming back to the U.S. from vacation. That’s a bad trip.

If you are a non-citizen thinking of working or investing in the state-legal cannabis space, it’s critical to get the right immigration legal advice. Don’t let your chances at citizenship go up in smoke.


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