Can a Green Card Holder Use State-Legal Medical Marijuana
Over the last decade or so, twenty five states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) in some capacity. This includes several of the states with some of the largest immigration populations, including California, New York, and Texas. Four states and D.C. have even legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, even if a permanent resident can buy legal marijuana in his or her state, it may not be a wise idea due to the drug’s shaky legal status. Immigration is governed by federal law, where it is administered by the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). The federal government officially outlaws all use of marijuana across the United States. Under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ranks controlled substances under five schedules. Schedule I is considered to be the most dangerous category with a “potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” These drugs supposedly have “no accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I includes marijuana, heroin, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote. However, with the population’s growing support for medical marijuana, the federal government has taken small steps toward loosening its stance on marijuana. The U.S. Department of Justice stated in a 2013 memo that it would focus its efforts combatting marijuana use where certain enforcement priorities are implicated. These priorities included preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, and preventing drugged driving. This memo has widely been interpreted as the federal government allowing the states to proceed with legal medical marijuana regimes, without interference as long as the DOJ’s priorities are taken into consideration. Congress also has passed amendments to its annual spending bills preventing the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. Despite these steps forward however, green card or visa holders need to be very careful when it comes to medical marijuana. The DOJ guidelines are just that—guidelines—and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be applied in every case. In addition, federal policy toward medical marijuana could easily change in the future if a new anti-marijuana President or Congress comes into power. Until marijuana is officially re-scheduled or de-scheduled, there is always a chance that a person using the drug properly under state law could still be prosecuted for violating federal law. Green card holders convicted of a violation of a federal law addressing marijuana qualify for deportation under Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, unless it was a first conviction for possession 30 grams or less of marijuana for your own, personal use. And even though possession of less than 30 grams does not constitute grounds for deportation, it can be used to keep you from entering the U.S. again the next time you leave the country. The law also states that a permanent resident can be deported if they are a “drug abuser or addict.” Due to the uncertainty of federal policies toward marijuana and the high stakes involved, it may be safest for green card holders to err on the side of caution and avoid cannabis all together, whether medical or recreational, until they officially obtain their U.S. Citizenship.