By Kelly R. Decsy, Esq.
The passing of California Proposition 64 on November 8th, 2016, marked a new era in the state’s storied history and relationship with cannabis, also known as marijuana. Capturing 57% of the vote, Prop 64 marked the first time ever that the state had successfully passed legislation legalizing marijuana for recreational consumption across California.
Less than two months later, cannabis dispensaries and storefronts soon opened up, lines of customers eager to experience history rounded city corners, and a new gold rush for cannabis products and businesses soon flourished across the Golden State.
In that time, California has reaped the benefits, bringing in an estimated $345 million dollars of revenue in 2018 alone that in turn gets pumped back into communities. These businesses have created jobs, expanded the market, and helped establish new products for consumers and hobbyists eager to expand their knowledge, understanding, and recreation with the product. The City of Los Angeles is already home nearly 200 cannabis dispensaries, a number that illustrates the popularity and demand for the recently legalized substance.
On top of that, a new wave of cannabis restaurants, bars, and clubs with marijuana infused products will soon take hold, including LA’s first cannabis cafe Lowell Farms, which just opened its doors in West Hollywood in September 2019. All in all, there’s a welcomed sense of excitement and opportunity when it comes to the cannabis industry’s growth across California and more specifically Los Angeles.
But legalizing marijuana in California comes with growing pains. Ambiguities still exist when considering cannabis laws both at a state and federal level, and many investors, professionals, or executives within the industry still face legal hiccups that hinder their ability to serve their customers.
For international investors or professionals hoping to get into the cannabis industry, doing so comes with risks that could damage your ability to live in and enter the United States.
Marijuana is still illegal in terms of federal law and is classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. When applying for citizenship or a green card, foreign nationals will be asked if they have "ever violated or engaged in a conspiracy to violate any law related to controlled substance?" This question alone stands between many foreign investors, workers or professionals from entering the cannabis industry while they consider their options when applying for visa, green card, or citizenship status through USCIS.
The Trump administration itself has outlined how those using or working within cannabis would conflict with “good moral character” in a guidance issued earlier this year.
“The policy guidance clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws,”
Even traveling to the United States for cannabis business meetings, conferences, events, or tourism could create problems for you at the border. And considering that border patrol officers are now more diligent in searching social media accounts of those people entering the country, you could potentially face heartbreak when trying to come to the U.S. if there is anything marijuana related on your social accounts.
Posting any photos, videos, or content on your social media accounts showing you engaging in any marijuana activities, attending cannabis industry events, or smoking/ingesting marijuana, even in countries where cannabis is legal, could damage your chances of earning a U.S. visa or green card in the future, so be careful with what you share online.
Foreign nationals as well as current visa holders can expect to be asked by border patrol officers about previous cannabis use when entering and re-entering the United States. Keep in mind that officers are permitted to deny entry to individuals who have admitted to using cannabis or engaging in aspects of any marijuana-related offense.
Even if you are planning on moving to California or other states where marijuana is legal, it does not matter in the eyes of the federal U.S. government. Lying to border patrol officers is even worse; if you are caught engaging in fraud you could be barred from entering the United States for life.
If you work in the cannabis industry, and are considering taking your work to the United States, or employing foreign talent interested in entering the U.S. for this business, we advise to discuss your specific needs and goals with an immigration attorney. It’s never safe to act on assumption; just because a colleague, friend, or other industry professional was able to figure out their situation does not mean that your case will be the same. It’s advised not to gamble with your or your employees future given the potential consequences.
Be knowledgeable, be prepared, and always err on the side of caution.
D’Alessio Law Group is a fully integrated international law firm with lawyers located across three continents. The firm represents leading multinational corporations, tech leaders and entrepreneurs, innovative startups, longstanding production and talent organizations, leading universities, next-level entertainers and artists, and talented professionals across the international tech, corporate, and entertainment industries.
This article is written by Attorney Kelly R. Decsy for D’Alessio Law Group. This information does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.
About Kelly Decsy, Esq.
As the daughter of refugees who immigrated to the U.S. from Cold War Hungary, Kelly Decsy has a personal passion for helping others achieve their immigration dreams. Kelly represents clients on a full range of immigration matters, with a particular focus on employment-based visas for technology and entertainment professionals. Her practice emphasizes a personalized approach, using case strategies tailored to each client’s unique individual needs.
Kelly is proud to help foreign talent and their employers navigate the complexities of U.S. immigration, and enjoys working in a field where her professional duties can align closely with her personal background. Before joining DLG, Kelly worked as a senior trial lawyer at a fast-paced Los Angeles law firm. She received her BA from the University of California at Riverside, before earning her Juris Doctorate from Southwestern Law School. As part of her law training, Kelly studied in the United Kingdom through the University of London’s International Entertainment Law Program. She has received numerous accolades, including both the prestigious CALI Award and Southwestern Law School’s Witkin Award for Academic Excellence.