A total of 28 states and the nation's capital, Washington D.C., allow marijuana use in some form or another -- but it's important for immigrants who are here in the U.S. to remember that state laws and federal laws on marijuana do not agree. Whether you are documented or undocumented, being caught with marijuana can unravel your immigration status really quickly. Here's what you should know.
What are the consequences of drug offenses on your immigration status?
Unless you are a legal citizen of the U.S., a drug offense can have disastrous repercussions:
- the temporary or permanent ban on reentry into the United States
- the permanent loss of the ability to obtain lawful residency
- loss of asylum status
- an inability to obtain asylum status
You should also keep in mind that activity like working in a state-sanctified marijuana shop could be considered drug trafficking under federal law, which is an even more serious offense. Possession of more than a small amount, the definition of which varies according to your location, could also trigger suspicion that you are engaging in drug trafficking. That means, for example, if you live in a state where it is legal to buy small amounts of drugs for recreational use, buying extra as a gift for someone you know can trigger drug trafficking charges -- even if you never took money for the exchange.
It's also important to realize something else: you don't even have to be caught with the drugs in your possession for marijuana to cause problems with your immigration status. If a non-U.S. citizen admits to using marijuana in a marijuana-legal state during an interview with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at any time during his or her stay in the United States, that can be considered a crime of moral turpitude. In other words, you are admitting to violating federal law and putting yourself in line for deportation only because you are confusing the legality of marijuana use under federal rules.
How can you protect yourself from a marijuana-related problem with ICE?
First, recognize that if an official from ICE is asking about your past marijuana use, you don't want to lie -- nor do you want to admit to using. Ask to speak to an attorney first. You have the legal right to refuse to answer any questions until you've spoken to an attorney. There are reports that immigration officers are asking non-citizens who are here legally, with all due proper documentation, about their past marijuana use.
Also, legal experts advise that you strictly avoid marijuana, even for medical use -- this includes never leaving your home with drug paraphernalia, like a marijuana pipe, hookah, or rolling papers in your possession.
If you are caught in a situation where your marijuana use could be an issue, talk to an immigration lawyer like The Oxford Law Firm promptly.