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Are You An Immigrant On U.S. Soil? Don't Assume New Marijuana Liberties Apply To You

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If you live in one of the states where marijuana is now legal medically or for both medical and recreational use, congratulations. You're now part of the ever-growing movement that's taken hold nationally that has finally decided that cannabis isn't all that dangerous to consumers—unless that consumer happens to be an immigrant. Even an immigrant that's here on a student visa, work visa, or some other legal status can get into trouble with marijuana usage—even in a state that's declared it legal. Immigrants can be deported or banned from re-entry to the U.S. for numerous drug-related offenses that wouldn't be really offenses if they were citizens—which many immigrants naturally find confusing.

Protect Yourself From Deportation Or Refused Admittance 

If you're an immigrant, this is what you need to know about legalized marijuana and how to protect yourself:

1. The use of marijuana, despite its acceptance under 29 state laws and in Washington D.C. itself, remains illegal on a federal level. That means that you can be prosecuted and found guilty under federal law, even if you are innocent of wrong-doing under state laws.

2. You do not have to be convicted of an actual drug crime to end up barred from the United States. It is enough that you admit to one. For example, you leave the U.S. to go to a cousin's wedding abroad. On your way back, a customs official might casually note that you live in Colorado and ask if you've ever tried any of the marijuana being legally sold there. You may think the agent is just curious and answer that yes, you have. At this point, you've just confessed to a federal crime, and the ICE official can mark you as ineligible for re-entry to the U.S. for life due to a drug crime.

3. Any immigrant that doesn't have citizenship needs to understand that all the new freedoms regarding marijuana use aren't applicable to him or her. That means:

  • Do not carry a letter or card or other documentation that certifies a medical need for marijuana.
  • Do not go into a marijuana dispensary—even if simply to visit a friend who works there.
  • Do not obtain employment in the marijuana industry at all.
  • Do not wear or display any pro-medical marijuana items, like a t-shirt with a cannabis leaf on it or a pin with one.
  • Do not answer questions from police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, or anyone else regarding your past marijuana use or possession. Do not lie, either—simply decline to answer and ask for an attorney if necessary.

And, it may go without saying, but you can't use marijuana safely at all if you're a non-citizen, no matter what state you are in. Keep in mind that the political atmosphere around immigrants has changed considerably in a short period of time. Currently, if you obtain employment in or even walk into a legal marijuana dispensary, you can be deported on suspicion of drug trafficking. In the eyes of ICE agents, walking into a state-approved marijuana source is no different than going to see a drug dealer in his or her den. Make a purchase or handle the drugs at all, and ICE agents have all they need to convict you on serious trafficking charges.

If you are ever stopped on suspicion of drug activity, your position is immediately serious. Contact a drug crime lawyer, such as Gonzales, Joe D, before you answer any questions or make any statements.