The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young, one of my personal favorites, reports that his U.S. naturalization application has run into issues due to his truthful admissions related to cannabis activities. Neil was born in Canada, and is one of Canada’s greatest rock stars. He has often taken very public positions on U.S. policy, and is basically a living legend, for his music and his activism.
DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declared in a public policy statement in April 2019 that it would deny naturalization applications for a wide range of marijuana activities. I am just back from the American Immigration Lawyers Association California Chapter’s Conference, where I spoke on this very topic (“Cannabis and Immigration”).
The USCIS position is as follows:
2. Conditional Good Moral Character 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. (footnotes omitted; emphasis/underlining added).
This position, and Neil’s situation, is exactly why I am interested and writing about this topic. It is disingenuous for the Federal Government to turn cannabis use or legal employment into a good moral character issue, while the Federal Government openly permits States to operate legal marijuana industries. This is a justice issue.
In my view, the government’s policy here is nothing less than another unconscionable attack against immigrants, their families, and their employers. The issue has not received enough attention in the U.S. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that this Administration has been incredibly hard on immigrants, and this is just one more example.
Seriously. Everyone in legalized states knows elderly persons who are going to dispensaries to purchase marijuana products. It is headline news. In Washington State, where I am at, legal cannabis shops are highly visible in almost every town, and advertised via road signs and media. Cannabis is big business, and people are looking to invest. Professionals legally help these businesses. And then there’s the AARP, which just ran a cover story in their monthly periodical, discussing at length the pros and cons of marijuana use. This being Veteran’s Day, I’ll also mention the returning veteran who purchases such products to help with their post-traumatic stress. Over half the States have moved towards legalization in one way or another. Canada legalized nationally last year. Activities related to legalization are not good moral character issues.
I am not saying everyone should go out and use marijuana. That is a very personal decision. What I am saying is wrong—absolutely wrong –is to label marijuana possession and other state-legal activities as good moral character defects, in such a permissive environment. I would never call my friends and relatives who have purchased such products legally persons of bad moral character. Most of the people I know who have are actually over the age of 50, and are more interested in purchasing cannabis products to help with sleep or pain.
The Government should strike this guidance, because it is just too broad, and not really all that helpful to adjudicators for assessing good moral character. Perhaps the Courts will do so, as so many things on immigration end up there these days, due to rushed and reckless policy positions taken up by the government.
Neil’s situation reminds me of way back in the 1970s, when he released “Southern Man,” and Lynyrd Skynrd issued its famous retort, “Sweet Home Alabama”, where the late Ronnie Van Zant sings, “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember, A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
Times change. So they have with cannabis. I think the United States should be glad to have Neil Young around, and I’m glad to see he’s publicly calling attention to his immigration issue.