U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today that it updated its Policy Manual to explicitly state that possession of marijuana, even in legalized states, will disqualify naturalization applicants. The Policy Manual is relied upon by adjudicator’s to make decisions on applications. The agency’s position is legal marijuana use violates the federal Controlled Substances Act, even though the U.S. government allows states to legalize. If an applicant admits to use, they will be found to not have “good moral character,” and their application will be denied.
The agency’s position seems to be that its hands are tied on this issue, in light of federal law. This strikes me as disingenuous, for several reasons. First, marijuana use should not be tied to “good moral character” in any event. Many people use marijuana for many different uses, and they don’t have bad moral character, whatever Washington D.C. is doing. Second, federal agencies aren’t enforcing the Controlled Substance Act like this, and particularly the U.S. Department of Justice. Third, noncitizens, who are tested for basic English as part of the naturalization applications, are here expected to be experts on federal/state law distinctions. That is absurd. Marijuana stores are not hidden from sight. They are common in states that have legalized, and by all appearances, legitimate. Fourth, increasingly, there are CBD products on the market–even in grocery stores–that may have attributes of marijuana, and serve other purposes than getting high. Does the purchase of a CBD product, for medicinal purposes, have good moral implications? Fifth, what if a doctor prescribes a marijuana product? Does a person have a good moral character issue for following a doctor’s orders?
We are also hearing periodically of naturalization applications which are denied because a person is working for a legalized marijuana related business. Such work can be working in the production of marijuana (farms, trimming, testing), working in a marijuana store, or holding an ownership interest in a marijuana-related business.
Naturalization applications cost $725 typically, and are taking the agency more than a year to adjudicate in most locations. A person typically applies for naturalization after residing in the United States for at least three years, if married to a U.S. citizen; or after five years of residence in most other cases. A denied application can be heart-breaking. Also, depending on the agency’s findings and the violations involved, the matter may be considered for a removal hearing.
The time is long past for federal legislators to step in, as policies like this will hurt U.S. families and businesses.
Here is what the announcement says:
USCIS is issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify that violations of federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana, are generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization, even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law. The policy guidance also clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.
Since 1996, some states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the manufacture, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and non-medical (recreational) marijuana in their respective jurisdictions. However, federal law classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose manufacture (which includes production, such as planting, cultivation, growing, or harvesting), distribution, dispensing, or possession may lead to immigration consequences.
Please see the Policy Manual Update (PDF, 211 KB) for more information.
And here is what the updated Policy Manual says:
2. Conditional GMC Bar Applies Regardless of State Law Decriminalizing Marijuana
A number of states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have enacted laws permitting “medical”  or “recreational”  use of marijuana.  Marijuana, however, remains classified as a “Schedule I” controlled substance under the federal CSA.  Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use pursuant to the CSA.  Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to GMC for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law. 
Such an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana.  For example, possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. Depending on the specific facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC for the applicant during the statutory period. An admission must meet the long held requirements for a valid “admission” of an offense.  Note that even if an applicant does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-related offense, he or she may be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense.