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Legal Marijuana Implications for Foreign Citizens

Its time to light up, recreational marijuana will be legal for all adults in Illinois beginning on January 1, 2020. But if your an immigrant seeking citizenship in the United States, not so fast, lighting up has consequences.

Governor JB Pritzker signed bill HB 1438 into law on June 25, making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

But while the marijuana industry and the laws surrounding it are evolving rapidly, foreign citizens need to be aware of how their immigration status could be affected by the distinctions between state and federal laws over marijuana. Even when state laws might allow for cannabis businesses, the medical use of marijuana, or the recreational use of marijuana, the federal Controlled Substances Act governs drug crimes in the U.S. This means that marijuana is still illegal per federal law.

Drug Laws and Immigration Issues

On April 19, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would formally update its Policy Manual regarding how cannabis-related activity would impact naturalization. Even when the cannabis-related activity may have taken place in a state that has legalized “medical” or “recreational.” 

The updated Policy Manual outlines the following prohibited cannabis-related activity:

“Such an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana. For example, possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. Depending on the specific facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC (Good Moral Character) “

It is also important to note that the Policy Manual specifies that an applicant may be conditionally-barred from establishing Good Moral Character not just because of “a conviction” for a cannabis-related offense, but also for:

  • An “admission” to having committed such an offense;
  • An “admission to committing acts that constitute the essential elements of a violation of any controlled substance law”;
  • A “conviction or admission that the applicant has been a trafficker in a controlled substance, or benefited financially from a spouse or parent’s trafficking”; and even
  • “Possession of controlled substance-related paraphernalia.”

The long story short here is this, so long as cannabis continues to appear on the Controlled Substances Act, any foreign citizen should be aware of the risks and consequences before lighting up.  

Chicago Immigration Lawyer

It has never been more important than now to have an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer protecting your rights. Contact immigration attorney Julia Sverdloff of Sverdloff Law Group at (312) 238-9090 for more information or schedule your consultation today!

Learn more about immigration attorney Julia Sverdloff.