Updated USCIS policy on marijuana convictions
US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin (The Freeman) - April 21, 2019 - 12:00am

On April 19, 2019, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a policy guidance that seeks to clarify that violations of federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana, are generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law. The policy guidance also clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.

By way of background, since 1996, some states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the manufacture, possession, distribution and use of both medical and nonmedical marijuana in their respective jurisdictions. However, federal law still classifies marijuana as a "Schedule I" substance, whose manufacture, distribution, dispensing or possession may lead to immigration consequences.

This policy illustrates a situation where there is a conflict between a state law and a federal law and under such circumstance, the federal law prevails. Let us remember that immigration is governed by federal law and not by individual state laws. So even if the state of Colorado says that it is legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes, it does not mean that USCIS will honor that law. It will still find that you are not eligible for a certain benefit such as naturalization or greencard for reason that you lack good moral character.

To give you a clear example: a foreign national, admitted in open court during cross examination to self-medicating marijuana for his lower back pain which was legal in his state. The government attorney was so furious upon learning this since she took it to mean that the client openly defied US federal laws when he himself is seeking mercy from the court by not deporting him.


Happy Easter to all of us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single tenet of our faith that sets apart Christianity from all other religions. I hope that the message of Easter will bring about a renewal to each and everyone of us.

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