Overcoming Marijuana Possession Charges for US Citizenship by Naturalization

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By: Tigran Kirakosyan

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may deny applications for US citizenship through naturalization for applicants who are charged with marijuana possession, since this affects the good moral character. Even if the applicant is a resident of a state which legalized marijuana, a possession charge can still be an obstacle to becoming a US citizen. This is because federal law governs the immigration field.

However, Congress provided a narrow exception to this rule. An offense which relates to a single incident of possession of 30 grams or less of a substance containing cannabis must not be considered when determining the applicant’s good moral character.

Which Offenses are Considered “Related” to Marijuana Possession?

The congressional exception protects only against charges “related” to possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, or any crime connected to possession. This can include possession of paraphernalia (such as pipes or cigarette paper) with traces of marijuana even if the person did not possess marijuana.

However, a more severe offense than possession might affect a person’s good moral character. For example, a charge of distributing 30 grams or less of marijuana will affect a person’s moral character since distribution is a more severe offense than simple possession.

What Does the Term “Single Offense” Mean?

The above-mentioned exception will protect only against a “single offense.” The courts interpreted the term “single offense” to include several charges originating from the same violation. This means that if a person is charged with several counts (such as possession of paraphernalia, possession of cannabis, and possession of controlled substance) arising from one violation, it will still be considered a “single offense.”

Conclusion

A crime related to a single violation of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana does not affect good moral character for US citizenship by naturalization. Candidates for US citizenship can avoid disqualification by properly presenting the charge in their application. Contact an experienced Chugh, LLP attorney for expert advice on completing a successful naturalization application.