Many states have now legalized the use of marijuana, including California. Other states such as Colorado and Massachusetts, have their own version of these laws. However, marijuana is still listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under federal laws. The significance of these state laws in the immigration context is that even if a non-citizen is abiding by California laws when possessing or using marijuana, he or she may be violating federal law, which governs our immigration laws.
The Immigration and Nationality Act is a body of federal law that governs all of the U.S. It has several provisions outlining the consequences of using, possessing, or trafficking controlled substances. If you are not a lawful resident or a citizen, you can be considered inadmissible to the U.S. if you possess a certain amount of marijuana. You may be permanently barred from immigrating to the U.S. Even if you are a lawful resident of the U.S., you are not safe from deportation if you admit or are convicted of possessing or using a certain amount of marijuana. And, even if a resident is not deportable or inadmissible for the marijuana, it could negatively affect an application for naturalization.
Worst of all, certain marijuana convictions can classify a non-citizen as an aggravated felon, and preclude him or her from any defenses against deportation and permanently bar them from ever returning to the U.S. Moreover, these individuals will not even qualify for a bond for release if they are detained in immigration custody.
Although marijuana has been legalized in California, and other states, the use or possession of marijuana can lead to devastating immigration consequences for non-citizens. Even admitting to an immigration official that you have ever used or possessed marijuana can have adverse consequences, although you may have never been convicted in a court of law. There have been numerous examples of officers asking about marijuana use, aggressively, and trying to obtain a sworn statement during an interview. The officers can use these sworn statements against you in the future, and can even support charges in a Notice to Appear in removal proceedings.
The best advice is to stay away from marijuana, its dispensaries, or any paraphernalia relating to it, especially with the current administration threatening to more strictly enforce federal laws against them. Speak to an attorney before submitting any applications if this may apply to you.