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New Marijuana State Laws Do Not Protect Immigrants or Foreigners

Although various jurisdictions in the United States have enacted statutes to allow the medical and recreational use of cannabis, this herb is still considered a controlled substance at the federal level, which means tourists, immigrants, and other foreigners who visit the U.S. on various visas should exercise caution regarding marijuana.

Some San Diego immigration lawyers have contacted their clients to warn them against partaking in recreational marijuana activities, which California allowed in early 2018. An attorney interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune explained that some clients from Jamaica and the United Kingdom have been denied visas due to marijuana use. The newspaper also mentioned a Department of State report showing more than 3,000 temporary visa rejections based on statements from applicants admitting to marijuana use.

A report by Colorado Public Radio told the story of a French national who abandoned a promising job in the cannabis industry based on the advice of his immigration attorney. In this case, the French national had married a U.S. citizen and had been issued a temporary residence card for two years. His lawyer told him that adjusting status to permanent residence was unlikely if immigration officials learned his job entailed managing a dispensary.

The current status of marijuana in states such as California, Colorado, and Washington is a catch-22 situation in terms of enforcement. In essence, the American legal framework separates state and federal laws. As a republic, the federal government cannot stop state legislatures from passing laws that govern the actions of their residents, but federal agencies are not obligated to adopt such laws. At the federal level, the possession and use of marijuana are still considered illegal activities that could result in criminal prosecution.

The Trump administration has vowed to continue its enforcement of marijuana laws. Random raids by federal agents on cannabis dispensaries have not been reported. However, immigration law firms have noticed their clients are being scrutinized at the airport and other ports of entry. Dispensaries in California are required to scan the identification documents of customers, and all marijuana purchases are recorded and tracked, which means records could be obtained by federal agents and immigration officials.

Foreigners who use marijuana in the U.S. could be impacted by the doctrine known as grounds of inadmissibility, which includes being labeled a habitual drug user after admitting to using marijuana or other drugs on more than one occasion. There is also the “crimes of moral turpitude” provision, which bars entry or permanence of foreigners who have been involved in offenses that immigration officials may consider to be morally wrong.

The heavy-handed approach of the current administration may not always hold up in court, particularly when foreigners who have been previously admitted engage in an activity that is permitted in certain jurisdictions. Immigrants who are told by officials that they should leave the country due to marijuana use should not take action before consulting with the best immigration lawyers in San Diego. Get in touch with KS Visa Law today at 858-874-0711.

August 2018
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