Marijuana – A Menace in Immigration

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Colorado and Washington have recently legalized marijuana use and possession in small quantities. In fact, they join a total of 23 states and the District of Columbia which have some sort of permissible marijuana use, including medical marijuana. 14 states have decriminalized its possession or use. However, marijuana possession and use are still crimes for federal purposes as they are Schedule I substances regulated by the Controlled Substances Act.

This brings us to a very important issue for anyone in the immigration system. Because immigration is a federal issue, whether a state allows or prohibits marijuana use or possession is not relevant.

For those people inside the United States, regardless of immigration status, including lawful permanent residents (green card holders), there are grounds of deportation for drug convictions, drug abusers and addicts, or for drug trafficking. There are grounds of inadmissibility for people visiting the United States if they are coming to the United States to engage in drug use, if they are abusers or addicts of drugs, or if they intend to engage in drug trafficking.

These laws include traveling to places like Colorado to enjoy the growing pot tourism industry. Non-citizens who participate in marijuana use can be caught up in this dangerous area for immigration purposes.

Non-citizens should also take note that a conviction for marijuana use is not necessary to be considered a drug abuser or a drug addict. A conviction is also not necessary for a person to be considered a drug trafficker. Despite being legal in Colorado, use of marijuana would be considered drug abuse under federal standards. Likely more troubling for immigration purposes, operation of dispensaries and grow houses, and likely just working inside a marijuana dispensary or grow house is very likely to give rise to the drug trafficking deportation and inadmissibility grounds.

Foreigners are encouraged not to travel to the United States for the purposes of marijuana tourism. The implications of telling the truth about your travel plans upon entering the United States will cause a denial of admission. Lying or misrepresenting your intentions causes even greater immigration problems.

Despite the growing number of states decriminalizing marijuana, and despite Colorado’s legalization and readily available marijuana and edibles, the consequences for immigration purposes are very heavy and frequently unforgiving.

Bryon M. Large, Sr. is a Senior Associate Attorney at Kolko & Associates, P.C., a Denver-based full service immigration law firm. He is licensed to practice law by the Colorado Supreme Court and has also been admitted by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado and the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver and his undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico. Bryon actively practices removal defense, federal litigation, family-based and employment-based immigration, asylum and naturalization.


Bryon is a past Chapter Chair for the Colorado Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), as well as a Past Chair of the Immigration Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association. He currently serves as the President of the Colorado LGBT Bar Association, an Elected Director on the AILA Board of Governors, and is a member of the National LGBT Bar Association.


Bryon’s true passion in life is being a father to his two children.

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Kolko & Associates is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, German, and Slovak, and we can arrange for translators in any other language.