One of the requirements for naturalization as a U.S. citizen is to establish good moral character (GMC). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently published a policy memorandum stated that any violation of federal controlled substance laws could be a conditional bar to establishing GMC, including offenses related to marijuana. Although USCIS acknowledges that simple possession of marijuana may not be illegal under some states’ laws, it is still illegal under federal law. Despite the decriminalization of marijuana to specific degrees in many states, all conduct that involves the possession, manufacture, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law and thus can impact the establishment of GMC.
Under federal law, marijuana remains a “Schedule I” controlled substance. Schedule I drugs are among those controlled substances that have the highest risk of misuse, are most dangerous to the public and have no accepted medical uses. Many states have removed marijuana from this category of controlled substances under state law, but Congress has not followed suit. This has resulted in many state laws that are in direct conflict with federal law on the issue of marijuana. Texas law does classify marijuana differently than other controlled substances but has not taken steps to decriminalize marijuana in any amount, except for a recent expansion of medical marijuana usage for various illnesses and medical conditions.
As a result of this conflict between state and federal law in some states, marijuana possession that would not result in a criminal conviction in some states remains illegal under federal law. A criminal drug conviction not only can put individuals at risk of deportation, depending on their immigration status but also can endanger their ability to obtain naturalization. Therefore, an activity not illegal under state law, but illegal under federal law, can threaten one’s immigration status and lead to a denial of naturalization. When you have any criminal conviction on your record, even for minor marijuana possession, you may not only be at risk of denial of naturalization, but also of deportation. In these circumstances, you need an experienced immigration attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Taking steps to get you the relief that you are seeking at the outset of your case is typically easier than waiting until it’s too late. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 399-2311 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.