New CA Marijuana Laws and Non-Citizens

There have been many changes to California state laws on marijuana use in the last several years. First, marijuana use for medicinal purposes became legalized. More recently, Proposition 64 legalized the possession and use of marijuana for persons age 21 and over. 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 new 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. Some companies have taken steps in having a no-tolerance policy, but even personal possession can have adverse effects on your immigration status. 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. 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.