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Marijuana Double Standard

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

In spite of recent trends to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes in several U.S. states, possession of this drug is highly penalized among non-citizens and can get undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, AND permanent residents into serious trouble.

Yes, deportation is not just an issue for the undocumented population.

Make no mistake. Cannabis (the scientific name of the marijuana plant) remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under U.S. federal law, which means it is considered a drug with high potential for abuse, just as LSD, heroin and cocaine are.

Federal policy clashes with the states’ legislations regarding marijuana, creating a different set of policies for immigrants.

Small Change at the Federal Level

Since 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use should not result in automatic deportation. Moreover, ICE policies released in 2014 allowed for prosecutorial discretion in cases of immigrants convicted of marijuana possession since those cases are not an “enforcement priority” for deportation. Immigrants convicted of any felony or crimes involving “drug distribution” are higher on the list of priorities for deportation.

But there is a trap: If a person with a minor record of marijuana possession re-enters the country, he or she may be found inadmissible when returning from a trip abroad.

Due to the complexities of this issue, and the high-stakes penalties for immigrants, it is best for undocumented, DACA recipients, and even legal permanent residents to avoid any marijuana or other drug use.

If you have questions about this issue, seek the professional legal help of an attorney expert on criminal AND immigration law.

Here is our Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund guide to finding a good immigration attorney.