UNITED STATES – Marijuana legalization and immigration: facts for foreign nationals

Foreign nationals should be aware of the consequences of admitting to drug activity and be prepared if border or immigration officers ask questions about past or current drug use or activity.

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Marijuana may be gaining recognition as a less dangerous drug—but in the immigration context, it’s still toxic.

A majority of states have now decriminalized the drug, making it legal to use small amounts for medical or recreational purposes. California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana use, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. In addition, Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota enacted medical marijuana laws in 2016, joining more than a dozen states that have decriminalized the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.

While these state legalization laws may give foreign nationals a sense that drug activity in those states is also noncriminal for immigration purposes, the reality is that under federal law, marijuana remains an illegal substance that is subject to criminal prosecution and penalties. The conflict between state and federal laws can pose special risks and serious repercussions for foreign nationals applying for visas, permanent residency or other immigration benefits.

Foreign nationals should be aware of the consequences of admitting to drug activity and be prepared if border or immigration officers—including USCIS officers at now-mandatory green card interviews—ask questions about past or current drug use or activity.

Click here for frequently asked questions regarding this issue.

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