Marijuana use could jeopardize the legal status of immigrants

Marijuana use could jeopardize the legal status of immigrants

Claudia Buccio

The Mexican consulate is advising both lawful permanent residents and undocumented immigrants to refrain from consuming marijuana because this could jeopardize their immigration status.

Salomón Rosas, the deputy of the Mexican consulate in San Bernardino, said that the use of medical and recreational marijuana could pose a risk for immigrants because it is a federal crime.

“We are not against the use of marijuana, its medical use nor its recreational, it’s our duty to inform people that it is a federal crime, and it can jeopardize your immigration status,” Rosas said.

While this was an advisory by the Mexican government, this recommendation applies to all green-card holders and undocumented immigrants. 

TODEC Legal Center, a local organization that serves immigrant communities, saw this as a matter of concern back in January when Proposition 84 became law. This legislation allows anyone over 21 to legally use marijuana in California. Maria Quezada is part of TODEC’s legal assistance staff, and she said that they have given out flyers in both English and Spanish to inform non-U.S. citizens.

“It is legal in California, but when we are dealing with immigration, it is a federal agency and under federal law, marijuana is considered an illegal drug,” Quezada said.

Niels Frenzen is an immigration lawyer at the University of Southern California. He said that regardless of marijuana being legal in certain states, “it is still a potentially deportable offense,” he said.

“There are circumstances under which someone who is using marijuana or in possession of marijuana even if they don’t have a criminal conviction for possession where they could still be deportable from the United States,” Frenzen said.

Based on data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in 2013, about 90% of the cases of marijuana possession were near the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of those offenders were non-U.S. citizens but out of the apprehensions that were not near the border, over 80% of them were U.S. citizens.

The recommendations from the consulate include not wearing clothing or accessories that reference to marijuana, not working in the industry and not posting about marijuana on social media. All these activities could affect someone applying for U.S. citizenship.

“United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will conduct a background investigation and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies allow USCIS to look at social media,” Frenzen said.

According to a statement from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “if an alien unlawfully present in the United States is found with marijuana by local police authorities, and is then criminally charged with a drug crime, then ice may lodge an immigration detainer with the local jurisdiction.”  

The consulate and TODEC advise that if an immigrant needs to use marijuana as a medical treatment the best thing to do is to seek legal advice.