Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.
Do you regard people who use marijuana, solely based on their marijuana use, as lacking “good moral character”? Probably not, but unfortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has adopted a different position. Under a “Policy Alert” issued on April 19 by USCIS, a person who engages in certain “marijuana-related activities” may be considered to not have “good moral character” and thereby may be denied U.S. citizenship.
To become a naturalized citizen of the United States, an immigrant must demonstrate that he or she had “good moral character” for the past 5 years before filing a citizenship application. A person is considered to not have “good moral character” if such person has violated Federal controlled substance law. Marijuana use has been legalized by many states. However, the problem arises because marijuana use has not been legalized under Federal law.
The USCIS, issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual, stated, “Since 1996, a number of states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the cultivation, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and non-medical (recreational) marijuana in their respective jurisdictions.
However, federal law classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose manufacture, cultivation, possession, or distribution may lead to criminal and immigration consequences. This guidance, contained in Volume 12 of the Policy Manual, is controlling”. The USCIS clarified that “violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing GMC [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law. . . . 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”.
The term, “certain marijuana related activities”, can be broader than just the use of marijuana. The USCIS Policy Manual provides that “an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana.
For example, 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 specific 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 during the statutory period”. The USCIS Policy Manual does recognize an exception “if the violation was for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana”.
Can you imagine the uproar if this USCIS policy applied to existing U.S. citizens, and not just immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship? Every U.S. citizen who used marijuana would be at risk of losing U.S. citizenship solely based on an activity that could be legal under their applicable state laws. Instead, this USCIS policy is only applicable to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship.
This case is just another example of the many obstacles faced by immigrants today. In light of this USCIS policy regarding marijuana and the other anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration, immigrants need the support provided by the extensive immigration law experience of Kameli Law. For assistance with any immigration issue, please contact Kameli Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-233-1000.