Yes, a criminal conviction for possession of or trafficking in (sales) of marijuana can have serious negative effects on an immigrant's ability to obtain naturalization status. This is true of criminal convictions in general. Any conviction for a crime, whether committed here or in another country, can lead to:
- Disqualification for cancellation of removal
- A finding of inadmissibility
- Denial of the right to apply for US citizenship
- Exclusion at the border, even a permanent resident
- Loss of family immigration eligibility
- And more
The more serious the crime, the more negative impact a conviction will have on a noncitizen's chances of obtaining US citizenship.
But, here in California, recreational use of marijuana has been legalized. Adults in California are now allowed to use and transport small quantities of marijuana for personal use (up to one ounce). Adults are also allowed to grow a small number of marijuana plants (up to six plants) for personal use and consumption.
This is "good news" for noncitizens seeking naturalization since marijuana arrests, prosecutions and convictions have all but ended for possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, any admission or any other evidence regarding the possession of marijuana can have severe immigration consequences. Of important significance, working in a marijuana or cannabis dispensary can be considered “drug trafficking” under immigration law and has the most severe consequences that will permanently bar you from obtaining any legal status in the United States.
Marijuana Use Remains a Hazard for Noncitizens Seeking Naturalization
Even though marijuana possession and use is legal in California and even though convictions are down, there is still "bad news" with respect to marijuana use for those seeking a green card or citizenship.
Why? Even though California has legalized recreational use of marijuana, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The US Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug; that is, marijuana is still classified as a "controlled substance" by the federal government. This is important because FEDERAL law governs legal issues with respect to immigration and FEDERAL officials are the ones making decisions about citizenship applications.
Because of the conflict between state and federal laws about the legal status of marijuana, in 2019, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued new guidelines clarifying how marijuana-related legal issues will affect consideration of a noncitizen's application for citizenship. Essentially, the USCIS stated that, because marijuana remains a "controlled substance" at the federal level, even legal marijuana-related conduct by a naturalization applicant can be the basis for disqualification. Thus, noncitizens applying for citizenship should be cautious about recreational use of marijuana and/or being employed by a legal marijuana business. There are many nuances in the law, but generally, if an applicant admits to USCIS officials that they have used marijuana, this can lead to disqualification based on lack of "good moral character" or "proof" of a criminal offense involving a controlled substance or because admitting marijuna use can give immigration authorities "reason to believe" the applicant is either a drug trafficker or is a danger to become a trafficker.
“Reason to Believe” and Marijuana Use
Under immigration law, arrests that do not lead to convictions can be a basis for a “reason to believe” finding. “Reason to believe” means that the consular or USCIS officer has a sufficient reason to believe you are a drug trafficker, even if it is for legal marijuana use. Past arrests and police reports can be used to make this finding, even if there was no conviction or the conviction was expunged. If you have any arrests relating to a controlled substance, it is important to consult with an immigration lawyer immediately.
Waivers for Marijuana Use
There are certain circumstances where first time convictions for marijuana use will not make someone deportable. There are other circumstances where someone can be deemed inadmissible because of marijuana possession, but that inadmissibility can be waived through a 212(h) waiver if certain family members will suffer a hardship.
Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today
For more information, contact the Immigration Attorneys at Yekrangi & Associates today. You are not alone and we will fight for you. Yekrangi & Associates works to meet a higher standard. Our first goal is your satisfaction and we work and succeed with complex immigration matters.. Contact us at (949) 478-4963 to schedule a consultation or complete our convenient “Get Your Consultation” form here. We are located in Irvine, California but serve the entire world.
 INA § 212(a)(2)(C)