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Are You an Immigrant Who (Legally) Smokes Weed? If So, You May Never Become a U.S. Citizen

On Friday, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its internal policies related to the adjudication of naturalization applications of lawful permanent residents who partake in the marijuana industry in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which have enacted laws permitting “‘medical’ or ‘recreational’ use of marijuana.” According to USCIS, if you smoke weed, you may lack the good moral character to become a U.S. Citizen, even if your purchase, possession, and smoking of that indicia, sativa, or hybrid marijuana is lawful under state law. The USCIS update notes that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and has

no accepted medical use pursuant to the CSA. Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to [Good Moral Character] for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law.

Simple admission to the “possession, manufacture or production, or distribution, or dispensing of marijuana,” without an arrest, conviction, or charge, is enough to bar you from naturalization. Moreover, USCIS may seek medical records related to your lawful prescription for marijuana, ask if you were ever issued a license or permit to lawfully buy and possess marijuana, or simply ask how many times you have smoked weed, to raise the bar on establishing the good moral character necessary to qualify for naturalization to United States Citizenship.

This is the first of many changes to federal immigration law in response to the ongoing legalization of marijuana by states across the nation. Many immigrants walk into a naturalization interview not knowing that just because the weed was lawfully purchased under state law from a local, licensed dispensary, does not mean that it is permitted under immigration law.

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