More and more states are legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. But federal law still makes most marijuana use criminally prosecutable and a ground of inadmissibility for people wishing to come to the United States. Immigration practitioners are warning clients that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials are increasingly asking people about past marijuana usage.
According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), as of January 2018, 28 states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical marijuana, and 8 states plus the District of Columbia had legalized recreational marijuana for adults. ILRC warns that if a noncitizen admits to an immigration official that he or she has ever possessed marijuana, the person “can face very serious immigration problems.” This is true “even if the person never was convicted of a crime, just used marijuana at home, and it was permitted under state law.” ILRC recommends avoiding marijuana until a person is a U.S. citizen; getting legal counsel in the event of a real medical need; never leaving the house carrying marijuana, a medical marijuana card, or related paraphernalia or accessories; and not posting photos or information about use of marijuana on phones or social media. ILRC also recommends never discussing marijuana use or possession with any immigration or border official. If an official asks about marijuana, “say that you don’t want to talk to them and you want to speak to a lawyer. You have the right to remain silent. …once you admit it, you can’t take it back. If you did admit this to a federal officer, get legal help quickly.”
About a year ago, CBP issued a travel advisory in Minnesota for medical marijuana prescription holders, reminding travelers planning trips “across the border into Minnesota or North Dakota to leave their medicinal marijuana at home.” Although medical marijuana is legal in many U.S. states and Canada, the travel advisory notes that “the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana all remain illegal under U.S. federal law. Consequently, crossing with a valid medical marijuana prescription is prohibited and could potentially result in fines, apprehension, or both.”