On April 19, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its Policy Manual to clarify that a violation of a federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana (a “Schedule I” controlled substance under federal law), is generally a bar to establishing good moral character (GMC) for naturalization purposes. In addition, the policy update clarifies that an “applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.”
What is GMC and why is the policy update significant?
The policy update was issued in response to the increasing number of states and countries that have enacted laws to decriminalize medical and recreational use of marijuana within their respective jurisdictions. In general, any Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) wishing to obtain U.S. citizenship (i.e., apply for naturalization) must meet certain continuous and physical presence requirements, among other requirements, and establish they are a person of GMC. GMC is not defined, but specific acts, offenses or convictions may create a permanent or conditional bar to a finding of GMC.
According to USCIS, “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 facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC for the applicant” for purposes of naturalization.
Are other areas of U.S. immigration law affected by the legalization of marijuana?
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), any foreign national deemed a “drug abuser or addict,” or who violates any law relating to a controlled substance (including marijuana under federal law), may be found inadmissible to the U.S., meaning they are ineligible for a visa or admission to the U.S.
In response to Canada’s legalization of marijuana in October 2018, and questions regarding the ability of Canadian nationals working in the legal marijuana industry to enter the U.S., Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued the following statement: a “Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S., however, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reasons related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
In light of the longstanding rule that violation of any controlled substance law could render a foreign national inadmissible, foreign nationals working in the legal marijuana industry should be sure to consult with immigration counsel regarding the potential U.S. immigration impacts of such employment.