Marijuana Use—Even Legally – Can Cause Immigration Problems

Marijuana  Use—Even Leg…

By Susan E. Hill

In this age of growing acceptance for marijuana use, be aware that the U.S. federal government does not share the tolerance.  Marijuana use can devastate an immigration case, even if it was used lawfully under another country’s laws—or even lawfully under a U.S. state’s laws.  Our federal drug laws still forbid marijuana, and federal drug law trumps all others.

Marijuana use will be an issue in most applications for any immigration benefit.  This includes landing at the airport or port of entry and being inspected by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent.  While you may have a valid visa or ESTA in hand, admitting to past marijuana use could bar you from entering the U.S.   It also includes applying for a visa at the U.S. consulate abroad, as well as applying inside the U.S. for a green card and for naturalization (citizenship).   

There are two immigration laws that could be held against you for marijuana use, and you must be careful.  The first relates to whether you are a drug abuser, and the immigration officer can act only on suspicion, so it’s subject to wide interpretation.  At some consulates, if you admit to marijuana use the officers automatically assume you are an addict and require you to obtain a doctor’s assessment, which costs time and money.

The second law relates to “admitting” that you have committed a crime: unlawful use of marijuana under the laws where your use occurred.  This is a complicated situation to navigate and one which could trap you when you are answering the officer’s questions.  Even if you used in a marijuana-legal state such as Colorado, you were still violating federal law.

For certain cases where these laws are barring you from entry or from the benefit you seek, you may be eligible for a waiver under INA 212(d)(3) or INA 212(h).  However, not all cases are subject to this waiver, plus it will cost significant time and money. 

Consult with an attorney if you are unsure about your past activities so you can be prepared to answer questions.  Additionally, know that the Border Patrol can seize your electronic devices and look at your social media, texts, emails and more—if they see anything suggesting marijuana use, this could cause serious trouble and potentially bar you from entering the U.S.  Be prepared, marijuana use is no joke in the eyes of immigration officials.

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