Attention Californians, Canadians, and 04/20 celebrators worldwide! As another April 20th passes us by and celebrations become legal and larger, we want to remind you of the potential immigration consequences of smoking pot (we know, buzzkill). We have written previously about the immigration risks of and the distinction between state law and federal law when it comes to legal marijuana. As of the end of 2018, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in 29 U.S. states and the District of Colombia. Recreational use is legal in nine U.S. states. In October 2018, Canada legalized marijuana use nationwide. However, use of marijuana is still not legal under U.S. federal laws. For U.S. immigration, federal law is still the law that matters.
USCIS recently issued additional policy guidance on this issue. Specifically, USCIS clarified that the violation of federal drug laws, including marijuana, remains a challenge when applying for U.S. citizenship. If an applicant has not been convicted, but just admits to having used or possessed marijuana, even in a state where it is legal, this may prevent the applicant from obtaining U.S. citizenship.
As the number of legal marijuana users increases around the world, it is important to consider the various ways the immigration issue may arise. A Customs and Border Protection officer at the border or at an airport could ask a tourist hoping to visit the U.S. about his or her drug use. The officer at a USCIS interview or a Department of State interview could similarly raise the issue. Even the panel physicians charged with conducting a medical exam for those applicants seeking permanent residence may ask about prior drug use. In all cases, it is important to be mindful of U.S. federal law when it comes to drug use and be prepared to answer these questions. Applicants should consider the immigration consequences of legal marijuana use until becoming a U.S. citizen.