In 2021, the state of New York became one of the most recent to allow both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Just like alcohol, marijuana is now legal for purchase by anybody 21 years of age and older.

It’s a move that’s been long anticipated and lauded by many. However, immigrants to this country need to be very wary. It may seem unfair, but the change in the law doesn’t apply to non-citizens.

Why can’t non-citizens buy marijuana?

Technically, nobody will stop you from purchasing the drug at a legal dispensary if you want. However, you could find yourself in handcuffs and in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) almost immediately.

Why? Because the federal and state laws surrounding marijuana are at odds. Whatever the state says, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I restricted drug, which makes it officially dangerous, addictive, and without any medicinal value.

As recently as 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) amended its operating manual to clearly state that any marijuana-related conduct—whether it was legal within the state or not—is still considered a sign of moral turpitude.

Anything from working in a marijuana dispensary to admitting to marijuana use can be used to deny naturalization, declare you inadmissible, end your eligibility for family immigration and lead to deportation. Being an immigrant isn’t always easy, but it helps to have experienced legal guidance as you work toward your goals.