The US immigration law says immigrants can be denied citizenship over Marijuana-related activities, even
in states where it’s legal. Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any
purpose, even in places where state or local law does.
US officials issued new guidance clarifying that people involved in “marijuana-related activities” could be
found to lack good moral character, which is required for naturalization benefits. Policy Alert dated April
19, 2019. Those activities include the possession, manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana,
even if it is legal under state law. That is because 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.
Denial of citizenship for working in the marijuana industry
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2014 and medical marijuana has been legal there
since 2000. Oswaldo Barrientos and his mother immigrated from El Salvador 29 years ago and he received
his green card 13 years later. When he turned 30 he wanted to become a US citizen. But during his
citizenship interview, the immigration officer asked him questions about his job at a marijuana dispensary.
Barrientos was led down a path to confess in his interview that he broke the law and willingly did so.
Barrientos’s job working with marijuana essentially is a federal violation of drug trafficking, drug
distribution, and drug manufacturing, which for immigration purposes, is viewed as violations of the
controlled substance laws. Barrientos was not charged with a crime, but a couple of weeks after his interview
he received a letter of denial of his citizenship in the mail. The reason for the denial was that working in
the marijuana field constitutes a lack of “good moral character.”
Denial of citizenship is not the only problem resulting from marijuana activities. A noncitizen who has a
record or admits to an immigration official that she possessed marijuana can be denied entry into the
The United States or have her application for lawful status or even naturalization denied.
Moreover, depending on the circumstances, it can make a lawful permanent resident deportable.
WHAT TO DO?
8 steps to LEGAL SELF DEFENSE:
DON’T use marijuana until you are a US Citizen
DON’T work in the marijuana industry
If you have a medical need and there is no good substitute for medical marijuana, GET LEGAL
NEVER leave the house carrying marijuana, a medical marijuana card, paraphernalia like a pipe, or
accessories like marijuana t-shirts or stickers
DON’T have photos or texts about you and marijuana on your phone, social media
NEVER discuss marijuana use with any immigration or border official
SAY you DON’T want to talk to them, and you want to speak to a lawyer
BE SILENT—you can’t take back something you have already said.
But if you have already admitted some marijuana activities, get legal help quickly.