USCIS Clarifies that Lawful Marijuana-related Activities Could be a Basis for Denying Naturalization


USCIS has issued policy guidance, clarifying that the use of marijuana or working in the cannabis industry could be a basis for denying naturalization applications, even where such conduct would not be an offense under state law.  In its update, USCIS explained that marijuana continues to be classified under federal law as a controlled substance whose manufacture (which includes production, such as planting, cultivation, growing, or harvesting), distribution, dispensing, or possession is unlawful and, therefore, may lead to immigration consequences.

The policy clarification came in response to a request from city leaders of Denver after two long-time lawful permanent residents living in Denver were denied naturalization because of their work in the legal cannabis industry.  USCIS denied the applications on the basis that such activity prevented the applicants from showing “good moral character,” which is a requirement for naturalization.

By way of background, since 1996, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the cultivation, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and recreational marijuana in their respective jurisdictions despite the classification of marijuana as a controlled substance under federal law.  

Given the inconsistencies between state and federal laws as they relate to activities related to marijuana, foreign nationals, including lawful permanent residents, should consult with an immigration attorney about the consequences of such activity on their status.

This alert is for informational purposes.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss these developments further.

Nadia Yakoob