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marijuana reclassification and immigration law

In a noteworthy development, the United States is contemplating a pivotal shift in its approach to marijuana, including reclassifying it from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance.

At present, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which includes the likes of heroin and LSD, and is defined as a drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” On the other hand, Schedule III drugs, which include ketamine and anabolic steroids, are defined as “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” and include those that may currently have accepted medical uses. The potential reclassification of marijuana to a Schedule III drug signals a shift in the federal government’s stance and could pave the way for a more lenient approach to marijuana-related offenses from a federal standpoint all together.

Regardless of the possible forthcoming change, non-US citizens must continue to be extremely careful. After all, even in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use, federal law takes precedence, particularly when it comes to immigration, which is governed by federal principles. As a result, immigrants and noncitizens have faced–and may continue to face–severe consequences for marijuana-related convictions, ranging from possible deportation to being barred from entering the country (i.e. being coined ‘inadmissible’).

For example, pursuant to Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual who is in violation of any law of the United States (or foreign country) “relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of title 21)” may be inadmissible, subject to potential waivers. Section 802 of Title 21, in turn, defines a “Controlled Substance” as a drug “included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, or V.” In other words, an individual may be inadmissible to the United States if they violate any laws related to Controlled Substances included in any of the aforementioned schedules.

More simply put, although reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug could have broad implications, it may not shift or change the way United States Immigration Officials view previous or future violations of the laws surrounding it.

This is an ongoing development, and should not be construed as legal advice. It is always best to contact an immigration attorney to understand the possible immigration consequences of marijuana violations!

This Immigration Alert was written by Associate Attorney Josh Wildes. For more information, contact Josh at

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