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The constituents of four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska (and also Washington DC) — voted recently to legalize possession and use of a specified amount of marijuana for recreational purposes.  Marijuana is scientifically known as “cannabis” and commonly known by its street name, “weed.”

Arizona might soon be the fifth next state to legalize marijuana as soon as the proposal is submitted for approval.

Earlier, 23 states had approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.   Scientific and medical researches have proved that marijuana is therapeutic and can substantially alleviate condition of patients suffering from severe involuntary seizures (even among children), Alzheimer’s and cancer. It is used as a substitute pain killer.

Of course, let us not forget the revenue from its sale. The legal reality, however, is that federal law still prohibits possession and use of marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Possession and use of marijuana for any purpose across states is illegal.  Therefore, under federal jurisdiction, U. S. attorneys are left to exercise prosecutorial discretion on the matter as far as enforcement of the law (CSA) is concerned. It is, indeed, odd and contradictory.

For non-citizens of the United States who have plans of adjusting their status in the future, this is something to stay away from.  Immigration law is federal in character, and as far as I know, the law has not changed.

There is no partying or rejoicing for the undocumented as well as the documented immigrants.  Application forms to become permanent residents or U.S. citizens are riddled with questions pertaining to possession or use of drugs or drug trafficking.

‘Marijuana’ is a ‘Schedule 1’ type drug under the Controlled Substance Drug Act (CSA) of 1970.  Conviction for marijuana or drug possession can make an applicant permanently inadmissible into the United States. Worse, even without conviction, when one admits to having possessed and/or used marijuana, even though legal by state’s law,  he/she can be deemed inadmissible by federal law or by the Immigration and Nationality Act [INA, Section 212(a)(2)(A)(II)].  Only one exception is recognized, and this will not even exonerate the alien and make things easier for him/her.

The alien has to file a waiver and proves that a U.S. citizen spouse and children (as the case may be) will suffer extreme hardship if he/she is deported.  This single instance is when the conviction “relates to a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana” under INA 212(h)(1).

Having a drug conviction or having admitted to have been a drug addict or having a drug problem is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome for an alien wanting to get a “green card” or applying to be an immigrant in the United States.  The reason is too obvious to elaborate.

Interestingly, the Beatle legend John Lennon was the subject of an immigration case regarding ‘cannabis. He was facing deportation and was almost excluded from the United States because of a previous conviction for cannabis possession when he was residing in England.  There were court proceedings and a battery of lawyers, and he eventually got his green card [John Lennon v. INS, 527 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1975)].

But John Lennon is John Lennon, and you are you. Just a word of advice: If asked at the port of entry what is the purpose of your trip, it is never funny to joke about going to Colorado to have a taste of the ‘weed craze’ or attending a weekend party with friends in Oregon feasting on brownies a la mode.  That’s unless you want to find yourself in the next trip back to where you came from.


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