On April 19, 2019, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued an update to their Policy Manual to clarify their position regarding individuals employed by the legal cannabis industry in both the United States and abroad. This memorandum declares all employees of the legal cannabis industry as showing a lack of “good moral character” for Naturalization purposes, even though their conduct is not a violation of many state laws or the federal law of other nations where cannabis has been fully legalized (Canada and Uruguay).
Naturalization is an immigration process in which a foreign national is granted United States Citizenship, if he or she fulfills the requirements set by existing federal law. Once a foreign national “naturalizes” and becomes a citizen, they have ability to apply for a United States Passport, vote in local, state, and federal elections, serve on a jury, and have all rights and benefits of any other United States Citizen. One of the critical eligibility requirements of the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) is showing “good moral character”, which is directly related to the updated policy issued by USCIS.
Starting in 1996, state and local jurisdictions across the United States have passed legislation or voter referendums decriminalizing and/or fully legalizing cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. All but three states (Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota) have some sort of legislation in place allowing or decriminalizing medicinal or recreational cannabis usage. However, United States federal law classifies cannabis as an illegal “Schedule I” controlled substance that supersedes any state or local law. This means that, regardless of the laws of your home country or the local law in your United States residence, any foreign national involved in the cannabis industry is considered to lack “good moral character” and may be ruled ineligible if you apply for Naturalization.
As such, we advise that any foreign national, Permanent Resident, or nonimmigrant visa holder involved with the legal cannabis industry seeks the advice of an immigration professional before traveling to the United States or seeking an immigration benefit (such as Naturalization or an Extension of Status).