Immigrants with ties to marijuana, including in states where it has been legalized, can be denied U.S. citizenship, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Friday. The new “policy guidance” is but the latest hard-line stance taken toward immigrants and immigration by the Trump administration — though USCIS framed the move as a rule-of-law issue. The agency warns of “immigration consequences” for any immigrant possessing, distributing, dispensing, or manufacturing cannabis, explaining how they “may lack good moral character” — something required for citizenship — if they are “found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.”
Documented, otherwise law-abiding immigrants who have worked in the ever-growing $10.5 billion U.S. marijuana industry, or who have used medical marijuana, could thus be denied naturalization “even if an applicant does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-related offense,” the agency wrote, leaving what appears to be a lot of wiggle room to deny a naturalization request. The only exception in the updated policy, according to Marijuana Moment, is for “a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana,” or, as of Friday, for “paraphernalia offenses” related to that level of possession (though it’s worth noting that the Trump administration is hardly known for making exceptions when it comes to immigrants).
USCIS is “using the war on drugs to go after migrant community and that’s what they’ve been doing since day one,” the Drug Policy Alliance’s Michael Collins told NBC News following the announcement. Indeed, there have been reports that immigrants working in the marijuana industry have already been denied citizenship on “good moral character” grounds prior to the policy announcement, and it’s well known that the war on drugs has been used to disproportionally target people of color in America for as long as there has been a war on drugs.
The new policy also perpetuates the antiquated notion that smoking weed is somehow immoral, yet comes at a time when Americans are signaling historically high levels of acceptance toward the drug. A new CBS poll released on Friday found that a record 65 percent of Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana, and a record 55 percent now admit having tried it. Furthermore, 56 percent of Republicans now support legalization, as well as a majority of people ages 65 or older, which has always been the most weed-wary demographic. A majority of Americans in both parties (62 percent overall) don’t want the federal government to try to curtail marijuana sales in states where it has been legalized.
Good moral character “measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides,” according to USCIS. That means a green-card holder working at a cannabis dispensary in Colorado is probably more deserving of U.S. naturalization than a nativist policy-maker who persecutes someone who has done nothing wrong in the eyes of a bipartisan majority of Americans.