The Legality of Smoking Pot in California: Is It Really Okay?
January 19, 2024

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Drug offenses can carry serious immigration consequences.  The possible consequences include deportation, detention, ineligibility for residency, loss of asylum, temporary and permanent bars to citizenship, and stiff federal sentences upon reentry.  


The general ground of deportability is covered in INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i) and 8 USC 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) which find that a violation of any law or regulation related to a controlled substance makes an alien deportable.  In terms of deportability, some considerations to keep in mind would be whether the drug-related offense is a controlled substance offense or a drug trafficking aggravated felony.


Although the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in some states such as California, the possession of marijuana is treated different under federal law, and especially in relation to immigration law. For immigration purposes, it is federal law that controls, and it remains a federal offense to possess marijuana. Do not think that it is fine to “blaze up” after hearing that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) was passed!

The definition of the term “controlled substance” is given in 21 USC § 802, and “Marihuana” is listed in Schedule I of part B of the subchapter.

Immigration law treats any marijuana-related activity as a crime, with harsh penalties, even if it is permitted under state law. In terms of what immigration consequences marijuana will bear, factors to take into account include the amount of marijuana, whether it was simple possession or distribution of the drug, whether or not it was for personal use, and the number of times a person has been convicted for possessing marijuana.

General Advice for immigrants ( From Immigration Legal Resource Center)

  • Stay away from marijuana until you are a U.S. citizen.
  • Do not use medical marijuana unless there is no good substitute.
  • Do not carry marijuana, a medical marijuana card, or marijuana stickers, t-shirts, etc.
  • Remove any text or photos relating to marijuana from your social media and phone.
  • If you have used marijuana or worked in the industry, get a legal consult before leaving the United States or applying for naturalization or immigration status.
  • Never discuss conduct involving marijuana with immigration, border, consular, or law enforcement authorities -- unless your immigration attorney has advised that this is safe.

It can be difficult to understand what type of drug convictions would trigger deportability, and what an individual should do when charged with possession.  There are a number of ways and possible exceptions that a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can use to advocate for clients in Immigration Court and to counter the many immigration consequences of drug offenses.  The Law Offices of Sabrina Li, P.C. has successfully represented clients with convictions in their immigration cases in the past.  Please do not hesitate to get in contact to discuss the possible legal options available to you.

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