Immigrants who undertake the cumbersome process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen need to establish their “good moral character” (“GMC”) as part of their applications. That just got harder for immigrants who work in the cannabis industry. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) recently released policy guidance regarding “controlled substance-related activity and good moral character determinations.” The guidance clarifies that a violation of federal marijuana law “is generally a bar” to establishing GMC, and that an immigrant “who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.”
This policy comes in the context of an Administration that has at times signaled opposition to the cannabis industry, and that has consistently advanced anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. The policy has potentially serious consequences for both groups. Cannabis businesses that employ large numbers of green card holders and other non-citizens may experience labor shortages, at least in the short term, and the affected workers may lose out on the opportunity to work in an industry that has created over 200,000 jobs. Immigrants with medical marijuana cards face a difficult predicament: forego their prescribed treatment or place their abilities to become citizens in limbo. Immigrants who use cannabis recreationally may be less likely to obtain marijuana through legitimate businesses.