If Pot is Legalized, it Can Still Have Big Consequences for Certain Immigrants

This November, California voters will choose whether they want to legalize marijuana. California Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (also referred to as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), will be on the state’s November 8, 2016, ballot as an initiated state statute.  

However, it is reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, that non-citizens, immigrants, legal and undocumented alike, and green-card holders may still face legal consequences for using marijuana. This includes having their citizenship blocked or getting deported and not being allowed back into the country. This is because despite potential state law being enacted, using marijuana is still illegal under federal law. This affects immigrants who are trying to attain citizenship through the federal process.

Currently, almost 13% of San Diego county residents are not U.S. citizens. This is much higher than the national average, which is 7%.    

Current California Marijuana Law

Currently, possession of marijuana for personal use only carries a maximum of six months in jail. See Ca. Health and Safety Code 11357.  Often defendants will plead down to that charge instead of pleading guilty to a charge of ‘marijuana possession for the purpose of sale,’ which carries a three-year prison sentence. See Ca. Health and Safety Code 11359. However, pleading guilty to either crime is still a deportable offense if you are a non-US citizen.

Under federal law, the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) allows for the deportation of non-U.S. citizens if they have violated the Controlled Substances Act.  See INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i); 8 USC 1227(a)(2)(B)(i). This is why it is extremely important for all non-citizens facing criminal charges to hire an attorney who can strategize the best defenses for his or her specific situation.

Back in 2015, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman proposed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1351, which would allow immigrants facing minor drug offenses to enter a drug diversion program in lieu of the standard criminal process. It would have made it so that immigrant defendants with no previous history of drug crimes would be allowed to enter a drug treatment program and undergo drug counseling before they enter a plea. If they successfully finish the program, drug charges are dismissed, leaving no criminal record to taint their immigration process. However, the bill has not yet been passed into law.

San Diego Marijuana Defense and Immigration Defense Lawyer

For immigrants, innocuous things such as legal possession of marijuana can be a big deal, and for immigrants (both legal and illegal) that are on their way to becoming naturalized U.S. Citizens, a low-level drug crime (along with other crimes) can keep citizenship from happening.  Criminal defense attorney David M. Boertje has extensive experience fighting drug possession and immigration charges. If you have been charged or arrested for the possession of drugs or any other drug-related offense, contact The Law Offices of David M. Boertje today. Initial consultations are free and confidential.