USCIS Issues Policy Guidance Clarifying How Marijuana Violations Apply to Naturalization

The possession, use, sale, distribution and production of marijuana remain illegal under U.S. federal law and therefore, could cause a foreign national to be unable to demonstrate “good moral character,” one critical requirement of naturalization to U.S. citizenship.

FROM USCIS -- USCIS is issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual 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 if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.

Some states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the manufacture, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and non-medical (recreational) marijuana in their respective jurisdictions. However, federal law classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose manufacture (which includes production, such as planting, cultivation, growing, or harvesting), distribution, dispensing, or possession may lead to immigration consequences.

To qualify for naturalization, an applicant must show that he or she has been a person of good moral character, during the five-year period immediately preceding his or her application and up to taking the U.S. Oath of Allegiance. U.S. regulations specifically state that during the Good Moral Character statutory period, a person will be found to lack Good Moral Character (CMC) if he or she has violated any federal, state, or foreign law relating to a controlled substance (minus some exceptions per the statute). In spite of recent changes in some U.S. states that legalize marijuana within those jurisdictions, U.S. federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.

This guidance draws the Department of Homeland Security’s continued attention to the interaction between federal controlled substance law and recent state or foreign marijuana legalization laws in the context of U.S. immigration and naturalization. USCIS’s internal guidance does not change the legal requirements for naturalization.

If a foreign national has specific questions about naturalization and the impact of marijuana violations, he/she should schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney. This post is for informational purposes only.



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