U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency charged with handling applications for citizenship and green cards, emphasized in a memo on Friday that immigrants’ who use or work with weed—even where it’s legalized—could jeopardize their application for citizenship on “moral” grounds.
In the “policy guidance” to the USCIS’ manual, the agency said that even in states where the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana is legal, such activity is considered a violation of the Controlled Substance Act. Therefore, a conviction or admission of using or profiting off marijuana may bar immigrants from establishing the “good moral character” necessary for naturalization, according to the memo.
Immigrants don’t even have had to been involved in marijuana-related activities in the United States to be barred from citizenship—the policy clarification says that foreign laws permitting such activity don’t matter, either.
“Good moral character,” shortened to GMC in the memo, is defined by USCIS as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” But if smoking legal weed in Colorado or selling THC gummies in California doesn’t comply with the “standards of averages citizens” in those states, I’m not sure what does.
The USCIS policy on controlled substances is extremely strict on any violation of the Controlled Substance Act, going so far as to put a bar on a person’s GMC if they “benefited financially from a spouse or parent’s trafficking” of a controlled substance. Possessing controlled substance-related “paraphernalia” can also bar GMC.
The new clarification, however, puts extra emphasis on marijuana, saying that because the Controlled Substance Act doesn’t accept the usage of marijuana for medicinal purposes, even the use of medical marijuana could bar an immigrant from establishing GMC and therefore citizenship. Even more extreme is that even if an immigrant applying for citizenship doesn’t have a marijuana conviction or admits to having used, produced, or sold marijuana, “he or she may be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense,” according to the USCIS policy manual.
In a statement to Splinter, a spokesperson for USCIS emphasized that weed is still illegal at the federal level:
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level. Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.
There is an exemption to all this cloudy GMC posturing, which is that GMC can’t be barred as a result of a controlled substance violation if “the violation was for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.” This applies to marijuana paraphernalia, too.
The memo comes weeks after ABC News reported that lawful permanent residents who had applied for U.S. citizenship had been denied because they work in the marijuana industry, with USCIS deeming them to not be of good moral character.
“Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and, as a federal agency, USCIS is required to adjudicate based upon federal law,” spokeswoman Deborah Cannon told the outlet at the time. “Despite state laws that may allow medical marijuana use, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause empowers it to prohibit drug distribution and possession, even if the prohibited activities are not also illegal under state law.”