Marijuana Use or Production in States Where It's Legal Still Bars Naturalized U.S. Citizenship

Even in states where use or activity relating to marijuana or cannabis production is not criminal, it may block one's eligibility for naturalized citizenship, on good moral character grounds.

By , J.D.

** LEGAL UPDATE **

Applicants for naturalized U.S. citizenship must both prove that they've had good moral character for a set number of years prior to applying for citizenship (five years in most cases) and that they don't have any crimes on their record that block their eligibility.

Drug crimes have long been an issue in this context. For green card holders living in states where the recreational use of marijuana or involvement in the cannabis industry is legal, this creates an understandable source of confusion.

Such applicants might have engaged in activity that's legal under state law, and have no drug crimes on record, yet need to answer questions about their activities on the N-400 application for citizenship.

The N-400 form asks, for example, "Have you EVER committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you were NOT arrested?" and "Have you EVER sold or smuggled controlled substances, illegal drugs, or narcotics?"

To clarify, warn, or perhaps scare applicants, the Trump Administration recently expressed an intention to offer little to no leeway to marijuana users or producers who apply for U.S. citizenship. It issued an update to the USCIS Policy Manual (Chapter 5) specifically addressing this topic.

The Manual now states that "Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to GMC for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law."

The updated Manual goes on to list activities that will be considered violations of federal law, which include possession, manufacture or production, and distribution or dispensing of marijuana, and potentially more.

USCIS reiterates that it doesn't matter whether the applicant was actually convicted of a crime or merely admits to the behavior in question. In either case, the applicant might fail to meet the burden of proof required to demonstrate that he or she did not commit a federal crime.

The only bit of hopeful news for citizenship applicants here is that USCIS says that an applicant's good moral character is NOT affected if the violation was for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.

Effective Date: April 19, 2019