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The US Says Immigrants Can Be Denied Citizenship Over "Marijuana-Related Activities," Even In States Where It's Legal

"Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”

Posted on April 19, 2019, at 10:51 p.m. ET

Helen H. Richardson / Getty Images

US officials said Friday that immigrants involved in "marijuana-related activities" in states where it has been legalized can still be denied citizenship because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that issues green cards and citizenship, issued new guidance clarifying that people involved in "marijuana-related activities" could be found to lack good moral character, which is required for naturalization benefits. The activities include the possession, manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, even if it is legal under state law.

Jessica Collins, a spokesperson for USCIS, said in a statement people who commit violations regarding federally controlled substances face potential immigration consequences under the Immigration and Nationality Act, regardless of the state or jurisdiction they reside in.

“Marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level," Collins said. "Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”

There is an exception in instances where the violation was a single offense for simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.

Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

Since 1996, several states and Washington, DC, have enacted laws to decriminalize the manufacture, possession, distribution, and use of marijuana.

The clarification comes more than two weeks after ABC reported that a group of legal immigrants in Colorado were recently denied citizenship for their work in the marijuana industry.

Earlier this year the Immigration Legal Resource Center issued a notice to immigrants warning that while some states have legalized marijuana, both medical or recreational, it can still hurt their immigration status.

As of March 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.