Weed and Be concerned — The Immigration Consequences of Engaging in the Cannabis Trade


The legal cannabis organization is spreading like weeds.  As numerous states and foreign nations have enacted laws decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, a fresh rush of reefer madness has overtaken the organization globe.  Investments in the cannabis business are now out there as ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), and marijuana startups are proliferating at just about every step along the provide chain.

Not to be a downer, but this blogger worries that quite a few imbibers of higher and heady occasions may possibly not recognize that engaging in, and even facilitating, the marijuana trade carries dangers – not the least of which are the chockablock provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that portend undesirable trips aplenty.

Must you be worried about legal marijuana’s adverse consequences beneath federal immigration law?

Yes, of course, if you are a noncitizen:

  • residing anyplace in the U.S. who utilizes, shares (irrespective of whether you do or do not Bogart that joint), or sells marijuana in any type, irrespective of whether psychoactive THC or only non-psychoactive CBD
  • residing abroad who employed Mary Jane ahead of it was legal in your property nation, and you want to stop by the U.S., operate right here, or apply for a green card
  • residing abroad hoping to get an E-two or EB-five investor visa who desires to invest in and commence a organization even only remotely involved in the weed trade (other than agricultural hemp [per new § 297A Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, 7 U.S.C. 1621 et seq., Note: 7 U.S.C. 1639o, enacted through § 10113 of the 2018 Farm Bill])
  • residing anyplace who invests in cannabis companies by means of purchases of mutual funds or person stocks (irrespective of whether publicly listed or privately sold)
  • married to a U.S. citizen who is petitioning for your “green card” status (lawful permanent residency) whilst owning a duplex (exactly where you reside collectively on one particular floor and s/he sells legal cannabis as a dispensary operator on the other)
  • practicing law in the U.S. on a green card or operate visa whose customers want to engage in organization as growers/producers, distributors/sellers, makers/processors of legal cannabis

Yes, also be worried if you engage in organization in the U.S. (irrespective of whether or not in states exactly where weed is legal for health-related or recreational use), your organization employs noncitizens, and, say, you:

  • are a home owner who rents land to a cannabis farmer or retail space to a marijuana dispensary
  • are a economic solutions business and your best employee, a U.S. green card holder, recommends investments in cannabis-business companies or approves a loan to commence up or expand such a firm
  • are a cannabis grower or dispensary operator with a separate wholly-owned IT solutions subsidiary that manages your internet internet site advertising marijuana sales
  • want to employ a analysis scientist to investigate prospective merchandise or solutions, or delivery systems, involving any type of cannabis (except agricultural hemp).

Why not just blow off your worries?

These fearsome consequences are not necessarily specific or inevitable, but the underlying worry is affordable mainly because cannabis (at least for now) remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance beneath federal law, even if only employed for health-related purposes.  Hence, the Justice Division cares not a whit that weed is legal in California, Canada and numerous other jurisdictions.  Just ask Jesus Gabriel Navarro Guadarrama. On June 16, 2019 the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA [an arm of the DOJ]) determined that his two convictions beneath Florida law for possession of 20 grams of marijuana warranted deportation (even although a single conviction for possessing 30 grams or significantly less for private use may possibly have saved him from banishment).

Merely place, even although quite a few states (foreign and domestic) see issues otherwise, the Feds continue to enforce marijuana penalties beneath the immigration laws, be it MJ use, possession, or “trafficking.”  Certainly, beneath INA § 212(a)(two)(C)(i) the trafficking bar is so broad that it can trigger the deportation or refusal of admission of any noncitizen whom an immigration or consular officer merely has “reason to believe” has been “a realizing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with other individuals in the illicit trafficking [of marijuana] . . . or endeavored to do so.”

Immigration precedent choices of the BIA, such as Matter of Davis, have defined illicit trafficking expansively:

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “targeted traffic” as “[commerce] trade sale or exchange of merchandise, bills, funds, and the like. The passing of goods or commodities from one particular particular person to a different for an equivalent in goods or funds.” Black’s Law Dictionary, 1340 (5th ed. 1979). “Trafficking” is in turn defined as: “Trading or dealing in specific goods and normally employed in connection with illegal narcotic sales.” Id. Vital to the term in this sense is its organization or merchant nature, the trading or dealing of goods, despite the fact that only a minimal degree of involvement may possibly be adequate beneath the precedents of this Board to characterize an activity as “trafficking” or a participant as a “trafficker.” . . .

Illicit” is defined as “not permitted or permitted prohibited unlawful as an illicit trade.” Black’s Law Dictionary, supra, at 673. Providing impact to this plain which means, the use of “illicit” in . . . the Immigration and Nationality Act just refers to the illegality of the trafficking activity. (Emphasis added.)

What this indicates in the true globe is that visas for operating, going to, studying, or immigrating right here, for persons employing or possessing cannabis (see Vol. 9 of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual [at 9 FAM 302.4-2(B)(1) and (2)]) or merely “proliferating” the cannabis trade are verboten, and that even lawful permanent residents and the U.S. companies that employ them can readily run afoul of the INA’s cannabis prohibitions and penalties.

How so? Take into consideration these current agency actions.

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced, for instance, that a “Canadian citizen operating in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana business in Canada, coming to the U.S. for motives unrelated to the marijuana business will frequently be admissible to the U.S. nonetheless, if a traveler is discovered to be coming to the U.S. for purpose associated to the marijuana business, they may possibly be deemed inadmissible.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Similarly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Solutions (USCIS) has declared that “certain conduct involving marijuana . . . continues to constitute a conditional bar to [establishing good moral character] for naturalization eligibility, even exactly where such activity is not a criminal offense beneath state law.”

According to USCIS, conduct producing citizenship a pipe dream (for at least 5 years, possibly longer) extends to a range of federal offenses which ”may involve, but [are] not restricted to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana . . . For instance, possession of marijuana for recreational or health-related purposes or employment in the marijuana business may possibly constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws.” (Emphasis added footnotes omitted.)

USCIS adds that a cannabis-associated conviction is not needed.  Merely producing a binding admission to getting participated, partaken or proliferated a forbidden act related with the drug is adequate to trigger the loss of eligibility to naturalize.  Worse but, the agency adds that “even if an applicant [for naturalization] does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-associated offense, he or she may possibly be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense.”

U.S. immigration laws make no distinction involving psychoactive THC, medicinal CBD, or hemp, as this excerpt from the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, 9 FAM 302.four-two(B)(1) and (two) (despite the fact that arguably the species recognized as indica  may possibly be distinguishable from sativa) confirms:

For the goal of these Notes, the term marijuana involves any of the several components or merchandise of the plant Cannabis Sativa L., such as bhang, ganga, charras, Indian hemp, dagga, hashish, and cannabis resin.

Just say no versus just say possibly (till Congress, the Administration or the Courts act)

These agency pronouncements arise against a flurry of legislative, executive and judicial actions which present hope that the trouble of conflicting MJ legality may possibly sooner or later be ameliorated in one particular way or a different:

  • H.R. 1595 – The Safe And Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which passed in the Residence, would prohibit federal banking regulators from penalizing banks that finance genuine marijuana-associated companies, whilst its counterpart in the Senate, S. 1200, The Secure Banking Act, awaits a vote.
  • H.R. 4390 and S. 2021 The Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act, not but up for a vote, which, although laudable, would only supply that “any offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of marijuana shall not be regarded as grounds of inadmissibility.” In other words, these bills would not in express terms retroactively reverse the consequences for persons currently ordered deported from the U.S. like the hapless Jesus Gabriel Navarro Guadarrama and innumerable other individuals.
  • The Meals and Drug Administration not too long ago reopened the comment period on the prospective rescheduling of marijuana so that it may possibly no longer be classed as a Schedule I drug beneath international treaties.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August that it is accelerating its critique of applications by marijuana suppliers to supply the drug for analysis purposes (noting that in the final two years the agency has elevated the quantity of registered researchers “by additional than 40 % from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January, 2019.” The DEA added, nonetheless, that “[before] producing choices on these pending applications, DEA intends to propose new regulations that will govern the marijuana growers plan for scientific and health-related analysis . . . [and] support assure DEA can evaluate the applications beneath the applicable legal typical and conform the plan to relevant laws.”
  • Meantime, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on May perhaps 30 directed the DEA to reconsider its classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug.

    * * *

    Inevitably, in this blogger’s view, the trouble of adverse immigration consequences more than cannabis will at some point blow away.  Till federal immigration authorities cease throwing the infant out with the bong water, nonetheless, numerous noncitizens and the U.S. households and companies who interact with them will worry the prospect of uncertain and uneven enforcement of America’s outdated immigration laws.






Latest posts