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Work in marijuana business may affect citizenship applications

Applicants for citizenship must meet requirements required by law to qualify for citizenship, including periods of residence and continuous presence, as well as good moral character during such periods. Recently USCIS issued an updated guidance regarding the requirement for good moral character, and specifically discussed the effect on immigrants that engage in conduct related to marijuana.

While states like Colorado and Illinois have decriminalized marijuana, it remains a controlled substance under federal law, and any involvement with marijuana, including ownership and work in the marijuana industry, may affect a non-citizens’ ability to establish a good moral character, a prerequisite for citizenship.

An applicant for citizenship cannot demonstrate good moral character if the applicant has violated any controlled substance-related federal or state law or regulation of the United States or any foreign country during the required statutory period.  This legal impediment does not require a criminal conviction.  While it certainly applies to convictions, it also applies to an admission to such an offense, or an admission to committing acts that constitute the essential elements of a violation of any controlled substance law.  In addition, if an applicant benefited financially from a spouse or parent’s trafficking in a controlled substance, such applicant also will be subject to the bar even if the applicant personally did not participate in drug trafficking.

Marijuana remains “Schedule I”  controlled substance under the federal Control Substance Act, 21 U.S.C. §802(16).  Under Schedule I, marijuana does not have accepted medical use.  Therefore, conduct involving marijuana, even legal under state law, may violate the Control Substances Act, and will be a federal criminal offense and a bar to establishing good moral character for the purposes of citizenship.

Such offense may include violations of laws regarding possession, manufacture, or production, or distribution or dispensing marijuana.  USCIS’s policy update specifically states that “possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws.”   In addition, violation of the Controlled Substances Act may make an alien inadmissible to the United States.  It is best that foreign nationals, including permanent residents, stay away from marijuana.

If you have any questions regarding your immigration status or your eligibility for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, contact our law firm for a consultation.