USCIS on Marijuana (Naturalization)

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) updated policies related to conditional bars to naturalization due to substance abuse violations. The policy memo notes that regardless of state law, controlled substance related activity will create a conditional bar to establish good moral character for naturalization. Despite legalization in several states, Marijuana use may put naturalization applicants at risk of denial.

Marijuana & Federal Law

Marijuana, a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) is permitted for recreational consumption and medical consumption in several US states and territories. The USCIS policy memo states that despite the increasing acceptance in the form of legalization or decriminalization of Marijuana in areas across the country since 1996, including the District of Columbia, federal law maintains that Marijuana is a controlled substance. In fact, Marijuana is listed as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose “manufacture, cultivation, possession, or distribution may lead to criminal and immigration consequences.”

To become a naturalized citizen, applicants must prove good moral character. Evidence of controlled substance-related activity leads to a conditional bar to establishing good moral character, regardless if the individual operates within state law. Additionally, those who are employed in the Marijuana industry, whether directly or indirectly, may be barred from establishing good moral character. The policy clarification states “[an] applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack [good moral character] if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.” Therefore, those who are found to consume or profit from the Marijuana industry, regardless of state legality, are deemed without good moral character under the USCIS policy manual. While the policy update largely targets those applicants in states which legalized marijuana, the controlled substance bar applies to all substances filed under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812).