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Marijuana Activities Can Preclude U.S. Citizenship

On April 19, 2019, USCIS issued a policy update regarding marijuana associated activity  and applications for naturalization.

Green Card holders who want to become U.S. citizens may do so by applying to naturalize. As part of the naturalization process, generally, applicants must show that they are a person of good moral character for the period beginning 5 years from the application and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. Conduct prior to the five-year period may also be considered.

Certain types of criminal conduct will preclude an applicant from establishing good moral character, and the bars to establishing good moral character may be conditional or permanent in nature.

One type of conduct which often is at issue is that which violates federal drug laws. An applicant will be subject to the conditional bar, with respect to a Controlled Substance Law, if he or she has a 1) conviction for an offense,  2) has admitted to an offense, or 3)  has admitted to committing the essential elements of an offense.

While people’s perceptions of marijuana over the years have largely shifted and many state legislatures have enacted laws that reflect society’s changing views, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”). According to the CSA, Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse. At the federal level, marijuana is on the same level as heroin and considered worse than Fentanyl (a Schedule II drug). Because Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, conduct involving marijuana that violates the CSA will lead to a conditional bar of good moral character, notwithstanding that the activity is not a criminal offense in the state where it occurred.

Marijuana related activities that can lead to a conditional bar include possession, production, or distribution of marijuana. Being employed in the marijuana industry may also be considered as violating federal law. Remember, no conviction is needed. Simply admitting to the essential elements will suffice. It should be noted that there is an exception, a single offense of simple possession of marijuana (30 grams or less) will not trigger the conditional bar.

As there continues to be inconsistency between federal and state law regarding the legality of marijuana, these issues should be carefully monitored. If you are applying for naturalization and are concerned that you may not be able to establish good moral character, you should contact an immigration attorney to gain more information.