Don't be fooled, just because cannabis is legal in some states, doesn't mean it's legal for you.
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
London law firm Fragomen has warned British tourists and green card holders about the consequences of getting caught when smoking cannabis in the states. Non-US citizens face the risk of being arrested and even deported and barred for life.
In some states such as California and Colorado, cannabis is legal for adults aged 21 and over and can be purchased from dispensaries with a valid ID. Individuals can also legally grow up to 6 cannabis plants and carry up to an ounce of cannabis with them. As exciting as this may be, it has created a false reality for non-US citizens. Under federal law, marijuana remains a prohibited substance, classed under the same category as LSD.
A recurring pattern is currently happening over in the states, where foreigners are being arrested for cannabis possession. If you are planning to visit the US and purchase cannabis it's essential that you are aware of the federal laws in place for tourists and visa holders.
International immigration specialist, Charlotte Slocombe, a senior partner at Fragomen in London, has warned her clients and readers in an interview with the Guardian.
Since the legalisation of cannabis in the U.S Fragomen law firm has seen an alarming increase in immigration cases where British visa holders are facing deportation for cannabis consumption.
To set the scene Slocombe explained that, if there was a party situation where an American citizen and a British citizen were both caught smoking cannabis – in a state where cannabis had been legalized, the foreign tourist faces being arrested, deported and being recognized as unfit to re-enter the US again. The American citizen, however, may face no penalties.
Though it's not just tourists that can get caught up in immigration trouble, foreign investors as well as those associated with legal cannabis producers, are facing the risk of having their investments and business projects deemed illegal. One example provided by Slocombe was an unfortunate incident where two cannabis investors living in the US on a visa had their investment ruled illegal by federal law agents.
Fragomen also recommended that non-US technology companies be cautious when they are providing their IT services to American owned cannabis companies.
The most common way people are getting caught is by simply purchasing cannabis from legal dispensaries. When the dispensary asks for passport details as ID at the time of purchase, that information can then be traced by the authorities.
Another way that tourists can get busted for pot is in the initial visa interview. If you lie under oath it can result in instant denial of a visa. The interviewer will ask whether the applicant has ever used drugs or broken the law, they are also entitled to ask for a drug test before approving green-cards.
"This is how people get caught out even though they think they are doing something which is now legal in that state," says Slocombe. It is important to always remember federal law overrules state law.
"Equally that would include green card holders and those who hold visas to live and work in the US. Even for an American, it is federally illegal, but because they are not subject to US federal immigration laws they would not be as vulnerable."
Airport customs and US Border Protection reserve the right to question anyone about their travels when entering the US.
They also can question you about your line of work and what industries you are connected with. Therefore, any association with the cannabis industry can come up as a red flag.
As advised by Charlotte Slocombe, "don't take any risks. While you are not breaking state law you are still breaching federal law. It's too dangerous because the consequences are enormous, and you might be ineligible for ESTA entry and a visa forever"
When purchasing cannabis or conducting any activity in relation to the cannabis industry in the states, keep in mind the laws regarding your immigration status.
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