While many Americans were planning their 420 festivities, last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a stern warning to anyone who hopes to be an American citizen in the future about being associated with marijuana.
The policy alert from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office was titled: “Controlled Substance-Related Activity and Good Moral Character Determinations.” The memo that followed stated that any violation of federal controlled substances laws, even for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing “good moral character.” This means that any foreign national who admits to or is caught smoking marijuana in the United States — even in a legal state or a medical state where their doctor has approved their use — will never again be able to establish they are a “good enough person” to become a citizen of the United States.
The memo went on to note on all the major changes that have happened in marijuana policy since California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, but reiterated that the federal government still considers cannabis to be a Schedule I drug.
Lorilei Williams is an immigration attorney and founder of Mariposa Quebrada, an organization that aims to support immigrants through art and activism. She said that she had a client who was a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and originally from West Africa. He had three cannabis offenses around simple possession for personal use, so when he tried to become a naturalized citizen, his application was denied on the grounds of those cannabis offenses.
“None were deemed crimes under [New York state’s penal law], but were classified as violations,” Williams said, adding that her client had paid the fines and done the community service that New York had required.
Not only was the naturalization application denied, Williams said, the federal government also moved forward with proceedings to deport her client because he was deemed deportable for drug offenses.
“We worked with a criminal defense attorney to get two of the three offenses vacated,” she said. Thanks to that effort, Williams said deportation proceedings were terminated and her client kept legal permanent resident status.
However, without the support of a dedicated legal team, most immigrants would not be able to contest the federal government’s push to use cannabis as an excuse to deport.
Memo: State-Legal Cannabis Employees Can Be Denied Citizenship Also
Beyond targeting those people caught possessing cannabis, the memo released on April 19 clarified that violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act, established by a conviction or admission, remain proof that a person does not have “good moral character” — even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.
The memo also provided a terrible angle for those in the legal cannabis industry to get stonewalled: “An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack [good moral character] if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.”
This could certainly prove a hindrance to any Canadian person who has been in the legal cannabis industry in their country and may want to move to the U.S. as the global market eventually opens up.
Alejandra Rosero is an immigration attorney in San Francisco and part of the legal team at Dolores Street Community Services, whose stated goal is to nurture individual wellness and cultivate collective power among low-income and immigrant communities.
Rosero said that the memo from the DHS is essentially a continuation of the status quo.
“The use of marijuana has always had negative immigration consequences, even if used for medicinal purposes, because it continues to be a ‘crime’ at the federal level,” said Rosero. “However, if legalized by state law, a [judge] may become more sympathetic when granting immigration petitions since good moral character determinations are based on discretion.”
TELL US, do you think smoking cannabis should disqualify you from becoming a citizen?