Medical and recreational use of marijuana is legal in California and Canada, but its use remains illegal under U.S. federal law. Immigration law is enforced at the federal level. Given that, if you want to immigrate to the United States, you should be very cautious about any marijuana use or connection to marijuana anywhere in the world.
We write this post to help advise you of this shifting legal landscape and to caution you to not use marijuana, even if you’re in a jurisdiction where it is legal if you intend to seek a visa or green card to the United States.
Where is Cannabis Legal?
Cannabis is not legal anywhere in the U.S. under federal law. Immigration law is federal law and applies to all of the United States.
In Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use. Most other states allow medical marijuana use under certain circumstances. Still, marijuana use is illegal everywhere under federal law.
Internationally, Canada and Uruguay are the only two countries that have legalized both the medical and recreational use of marijuana. However, many other countries allow its medical use.
Be Very Careful
Applying for a visa or green card involves proving that you are “admissible” to the United States. That basically means you meet all the legal criteria to be an immigrant or nonimmigrant. It means you have done nothing illegal or even merely “wrong.” Some visa and green card forms and screenings require you to provide information about marijuana use that may make you inadmissible to the U.S.
For example, on Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)—a form submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a green card—you must answer whether you have trafficked or benefitted from the trafficking of drugs. Moreover, you may be deemed inadmissible if you are a habitual marijuana user.
Filed with a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad, Forms DS-160 and DS-260 also ask drug-related questions. Both forms require you to answer whether you have ever abused drugs or been addicted to drugs.
Although simply answering “yes” to the question, “Have you ever used marijuana?” should not lead to a finding of inadmissibility, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have done just that. No appeal exists for an inadmissibility determination.
Moreover, medical exams for green cards will include a drug test. Please don’t use marijuana, even in a country where it is legal. Marijuana can linger in your system and be present during your medical exam, which could result in USCIS denying your green card.
Form N-400 for citizenship asks a series of questions that require you to divulge your marijuana use. The form requires you to state whether you have ever sold or smuggled controlled substances, illegal drugs, or narcotics. It also asks, “Have you ever committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?”
If you admit to committing a violation—or attempted violation—of any law or regulation of a state, the U.S., or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, U.S. immigration officials could deny you your visa, green card, or citizenship.
Marijuana startups are growing in the United States and Canada. Sometimes we get questions about business travel for employees of international marijuana companies. People ask whether these individuals can come to the United States.
In the U.S., federal law takes precedence over state law. Marijuana remains banned at the federal level. And USCIS and CBP are federal agencies. USCIS and CBP will deny entry to any business visitors conducting business in the marijuana industry, irrespective of whether marijuana is legal in the state where the company operates. And importing marijuana into the U.S. is illegal. Under the worst-case scenario, you face being barred from the U.S. for attempting to commit a federal crime.
CBP released an updated statement on Canada’s legalization of marijuana: “A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. However, if CBP determines a traveler is coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.” The traveler may also be subject to seizure of property, fines, and apprehension.
Investing in pot-related businesses raises a host of legal questions that remain unanswered. So far, we lack guidance from USCIS on certain issues.
For instance, would USCIS deem someone who invests in the stocks of publicly traded international cannabis companies inadmissible? Probably not, but we don’t know for sure. What about someone involved in a marijuana-related business venture in their home country? Based on the Canada example above, coming to the U.S. to do business for a company would not be allowed.
If you want to reduce your U.S. immigration risk, stay away from using marijuana or participating in businesses involved in the cannabis industry. If CBP deems you inadmissible, a waiver may be available under some circumstances. Please reach out to us if we can assist you or answer any questions. Leave a comment to let us know what you think!