New Legislation Would Stop Denial of Citizenship Based on Cannabis Use

Rep. Brendan Boyle is pushing to roll back an antiquated rule when it comes to applying for US citizenship.
New Legislation Would Stop Denial of Citizenship Based on Cannabis Use

A new proposed piece of legislation would change the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow the naturalization of new citizens despite their past cannabis use. 

Representative Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania introduced the bill to the Federal House of Representatives this week. HR 1614 would remove cannabis offenses from the list of things that make it inadmissible to gain citizenship. 

In the past, despite the growing acceptance of cannabis in the U.S. and elsewhere, cannabis possession could keep someone out of the country for good. 

“Have You Ever Been A Habitual Drunkard?”

The bill, which would serve “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide that marijuana use, possession, and distribution may not be considered for determinations of whether a person is a person of good moral character, and for other purposes,” would be a major step forward for the citizenship process. 

“As applicants go through the Green Card and/or naturalization process, they currently encounter questions that ask, ‘Have you ever been a habitual drunkard?’, or for details about an applicant’s level of marijuana use,” Boyle said. “These questions are wholly unrelated to citizenship, and only serve to reinforce societal stigmas connected to alcohol and substance abuse. It is extremely troubling to see federal applications like this that continue to use a harsh and antiquated term such as “habitual drunkard”. Moreover, prospective citizens should not be penalized for relatively harmless and non-criminal offenses. This careless language only serves to reinforce societal stigmas and misunderstandings about substance abuse, and it is time we modernize the process.”

Under the current law, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, those who admit to using cannabis can be deported if they aren’t citizens, even if it is legal in the state they live. For this reason, many immigrants won’t use cannabis until it is federally legal. In 2019, a memo went a step further and also confirmed that working in the legal cannabis industry could impact immigration status. “Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use pursuant to the [Controlled Substances Act],” the agency claimed. “Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to [good moral character] for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law.”

Calling out the “habitual drunkard” clause as outdated and problematic, the bill also claims that former cannabis offenses are not a fair measure by which to tell if someone should become a citizen. This will help modernize the process of naturalization, bringing it up to speed with the current laws and rules in most U.S. states.

Immigrants who previously tried to get into the country, but were denied due to having cannabis charges on their records, will get a chance to reapply if the bill becomes law. Those who were deported for cannabis-related offenses could also reapply.

If this bill makes it through and gets signed, the process to become a U.S. citizen will become cannabis-friendly, ushering in a new era of acceptance to the U.S.

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