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USCIS Issuing Policy Guidance to Clarify that Violation of Federal Controlled Substance Law, Including Marijuana, Remains a Conditional Bar to Establishing Good Moral Character for Naturalization

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify that violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing good moral character (GMC) for naturalization even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law.


Since 1996, several states have enacted laws to decriminalize the cultivation, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and non-medical (recreational) marijuana in their jurisdictions. However, Federal law continues to classify marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose manufacture, cultivation, possession, or distribution may lead to criminal[1] and immigration consequences.  This guidance, contained in Volume 12 of the Policy Manual, is controlling and supersedes any prior guidance on the topic.

Policy Highlights

The policy guidance clarifies that violation of Federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing GMC for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.

An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated Federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.

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[1] See the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812), which categorizes controlled substances into five “schedules” based on their accepted medical uses, potential for abuse, and psychological and physical effects on the body.

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