The U.S. House of Representatives recently joined many states by voting to decriminalize marijuana via legislation that would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. The “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act” would also expunge nonviolent federal marijuana convictions, among other things.
Bill sponsor Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said that federal action on the issue “would follow the growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable.” Other House Democrats also are saying that decriminalization is long overdue. Some see it as a racial justice issue, such as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Jim Clyburn (D-SC). The latter noted that people of color are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people and are more likely to receive longer and harsher sentences.
Advocates for decriminalization aren’t celebrating yet, however, since the bill is not likely to pass the current Senate. Republicans have warned about the early release of criminals and a potential uptick in driver impairment. Future control of the Senate remains unclear; prospects for a similar bill in the next session could improve depending on the outcome of the Georgia runoffs in January 2021.
Why is Marijuana Still a No-No for Noncitizens?
The most important thing for non-U.S. citizens to remember is that although many states have legalized marijuana to varying degrees, it remains illegal at the federal level. Indeed, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new policy guidance in 2019 to clarify that violations of federal controlled sugstance law, including those involving marijuana, are generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization.
Moreover, such use may render a green card holder inadmissible and possibly removable from the United States. Although USCIS appears to except “simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana” from the list of conditional bars to “good moral character,” U.S. immigration law generally is extremely harsh on this issue, even with respect to medical use. Foreign nationals therefore should avoid carrying marijuana or a medical marijuana card, and avoid related postings on social media or any other activity that could raise red flags with immigration officers. Those who think they may have marijuana-related issues or who have worked in the industry should get legal counsel before leaving the United States or applying for immigration status.
Contact your WR attorney for advice in specific situations.
- Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3884
- “Five Things to Know About Marijuana and U.S. Immigration Policy (No Pot for Non-U.S. Citizens),” April 14, 2019, https://wolfsdorf.com/five-things-to-know-about-marijuana-and-u-s-immigration-policy-no-pot-for-non-u-s-citizens/
- “Big Brother is Watching – 4 Things to Know About Applying for U.S. Visas and Citizenship in the Digital Information Age,” Dec. 20, 2017, https://wolfsdorf.com/4-things-know-applying-u-s-citizenship-digital-information-age/
- “House Approves Decriminalizing Marijuana; Bill to Stall in Senate,” https://www.npr.org/2020/12/04/942949288/house-approves-decriminalizing-marijuana-bill-to-stall-in-senate
- USCIS policy, https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-f-chapter-5