What If U.S. Border (CBP) Officials Ask About Medical Marijuana Use When I Enter on My Green Card?

Officials of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ask about drug use, given that drug abusers and addicts are inadmissible to the United States. The federal government interprets “abuse” very broadly, essentially to mean any use.

Question

I have a green card, and live in a U.S. state where medical marijuana is legal. In fact, I use cannabis products to treat a chronic medical condition. (I have a doctor’s approval, and carry a card indicating that I can legally use this drug.)

I will soon be taking a long trip outside the U.S., however, and have heard that the customs people might ask questions about drug use on my return. Should I be worried? Would it help to carry my marijuana card to show that my usage is legal?

Answer

You are correct that officials of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ask about drug use, given that drug abusers and addicts are inadmissible to the United States. (The federal government interprets “abuse” very broadly, essentially to mean any use.)

As a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder), you have less to worry about when it comes to inadmissibility than someone applying for a first-time entry or nonimmigrant visa. The grounds of inadmissibility apply to you only in instances when you are said to be seeking “admission,” as set out in Section 101(a)(13)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Based on your description, the only legal bases upon which you would possibly be found to be seeking admission include if you were found to have abandoned or relinquished your U.S. residence, been absent from the U.S. for a continuous period of 180 days or more, or engaged in illegal activity after having left the United States.

So you'll obviously want to keep your trip short and steer clear of any trouble with law enforcement! You might also wish to speak to a lawyer before you return about whether CBP could, indeed, find that you were “seeking admission” and thus attempt to block your reentry into the United States based on your drug use.

The lawyer might simply advise you not to answer the CBP officers’ questions about drug use. Although it will be uncomfortable, you are not obligated to answer. As a returning green card holder, you don’t have the burden of proof. It’s the U.S. government’s job to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that you are “seeking admission” and thus subject to the grounds of inadmissibility.

Here again, however, CBP could detain you for further questioning. It would help to have a lawyer lined up ahead of time. But at least you won’t have admitted to anything that then goes on your record (and, it goes without saying, you won’t have lied, which can create huge problems down the line).

About that medical marijuana card? Best not to carry it with you.

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