Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) June 14, 2019 – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a guidance on April 19, 2019, advising lawful permanent residents that controlled substance use remains illegal under federal law and can negatively impact the outcome of a naturalization application. Violations of federal controlled substance laws, including for marijuana use or possession, are generally a basis for denying U.S. citizenship.
The new USCIS policy alert reminds naturalization applicants that they could be found to lack good moral character for participating in marijuana-related activities including possession, cultivation, manufacturing, dispensing or distribution. The rule applies even when the activity in question would not be an offense under the laws of the applicant’s state of residence such as Colorado or California.
Possession, use or distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law under the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance that is prohibited and has no accepted medical use.
“In an era of liberalization of state controlled substance laws legalizing the sale of marijuana in many states, federal law still punishes what state law now permits: the sale of medical and personal use marijuana,” said Stewart Rabinowitz of the Dallas and Frisco law firm of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “Perhaps one day federal law will catch up with those states which have elected to decriminalize. Until then, lawful permanent residents who seek to naturalize are on notice that federal drug violations can be fatal to becoming a U.S. citizen.”
The USCIS policy alert highlights inconsistencies between state and federal laws regarding marijuana. A majority of states have legalized the drug in full or in part. There are currently 10 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have enacted laws permitting marijuana use for recreational purposes. About two-thirds of the states have legalized medical marijuana.
Demonstrating good moral character is a key requirement for establishing eligibility for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. USCIS will generally deny naturalization to applicants who have been convicted of violating federal or state laws related to controlled substances during a five-year period prior to filing to naturalize. No conviction is necessary to establish a violation under federal immigration laws. Simply admitting to engaging in marijuana-related activities could lead to a denial of naturalization.
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