Although the federal government has remained firmly committed to prohibiting marijuana, many states have legalized the drug for either medical or recreational use. Others have merely decriminalized it, lowering the penalties associated with its use such that defendants charged with marijuana-related offenses are less likely to face incarceration. Most Americans stand to benefit from this change, as it means they face fewer meaningful consequences within the criminal justice system. By contrast, noncitizen offenders, including legal permanent residents (LPRs), may actually be disadvantaged by it. For example, LPRs living in jurisdictions that have decriminalized marijuana may mistakenly believe that it is safe to admit to marijuana use when communicating with immigration agents or law enforcement personnel. Due to the broad language of the Immigration and Nationality Act, however, such an admission can result in significant, adverse immigration consequences. Additionally, decriminalization makes it is less likely that indigent LPRs will receive court-appointed counsel to advise them of the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to seemingly minor marijuana-related charges. Although legalizing marijuana at the federal level would certainly address this issue, the federal government has repeatedly failed to enact such legislation. As such, states have stepped in, implementing various programs to protect their indigent, noncitizen residents. Although each has taken significant steps in the right direction, few have tackled the issue head-on.
Michelle A. Kain, The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization on Legal Permanent Residents: Why Descheduling Marijuana at the Federal Level Should Be a High Priority, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 2057 (2021), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol62/iss6/7