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Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains broad authority to limit entry of foreigners into the United States, possessing full licence and a strong might to bar migrants entry into the country if the foreign citizen has committed a recognized crime--including infractions or petty misdemeanors as miniscule as a one-time speeding ticket, public intoxication, or failing to possess the mandatory minimum in car insurance. Understandable? Perhaps: law is law.
At the very least, this strict policy is based on a solid argumentative point, debatable though the severity (and motivation) of it may be. But what does it mean when participating in activities well known to be legal, return the same punishment of barred entry, or deportation, as those on the black side of the book?
Marijuana may be a multi-billion dollar industry in Colorado--with underdogs Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, California, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine racing to follow in that money trail--but cannabis is still illegal federally. So, what happens when you mix a product classified by the federal government as a “Substance 1” (i.e., most dangerous) drug, with, current government’s second most perceived threat (i.e., immigrants)?
The grim reality is that any job in the legal marijuana industry can, and frequently will, be considered trafficking in a controlled substance: simply having a job in a dispensary or grow house can get a legal resident or other immigrant deported and banned from the U.S.
Because of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents employers from asking about an applicant’s immigration status, employers in the industry are also often unable to warn their employees of the incredible danger that their mere existence aside marijuana poses. Beyond employment in the industry, the multitude of other connections an immigrant may find to legal marijuana leaves a huge scope of migrants vulnerable to this legal paradox.
As the Immigrant Legal Resource notes in their warning for immigrants regarding medicinal and legalized marijuana flyer, immigrants should even be wary to leave the house carrying marijuana, a medical marijuana card (yes, you read that right), paraphernalia (like a pipe), or wearing accessories like marijuana T-shirts or stickers, and moreover, cautions against having photos or even texts about marijuana on a phone, your social media, or elsewhere.
Federal law still holds that it is an offense to possess marijuana, and federal law also controls for immigration. Since any business with a hand in marijuana industry remains technically illegal when defined aside federal law, a foreigner doing business with a cannabis company--even when operating transparently, and in complete adherence with the state’s legal regulations--is technically committing a crime, and can can be deported. Though the federal government is well aware of this detrimental inconsistency, unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, enforcement policy does not prioritize prosecutorial discretion: it does not create a legal defense for marijuana related crimes, even in states with legal cannabis, and it therefore offers no help to a foreign citizen in a deportation proceeding.
Among other implications, that may affect an immigrant’s ability to appoint a public attorney for one of these cases. To rub even more salt to this blistering wound, marijuana related activity can be considered “moral turpitude” in court, as well: in the eyes of immigration authorities, this designation can bar entry into the U.S. and prevent any future chance of gaining, or re-gaining, U.S. citizenship.
Our word of departure: never discuss marijuana use or possession with any immigration, border official, or federal official without contacting legal help first. Remember: you have the right to remain silent and do so.