Can you legally use marijuana in California if you aren’t a U.S. citizen?

Cannabis products are legal for recreational use in California. You might assume, then, that you’re safe from legal ramifications if you decide to indulge a little.

That might be true as long as you are here in the United States on a green card or any type of visa. While there’s no requirement that you be a U.S. citizen in order to use marijuana legally in California, you’re in an unfortunate situation that pulls you sharply between federal and state regulations. When that happens, it’s always safest for immigrants to defer to the federal rules.

Here are the things you need to remember about marijuana use:

  • No matter what the laws of the state are, marijuana is still considered a Class 1 drug under federal law. That means that it is treated the same as heroin or cocaine — with equally harsh penalties. You can still be arrested and jailed for possession, cultivation and sale by federal authorities.
  • All it takes to lose your lawful permanent resident status is a conviction that is considered a crime of “moral turpitude,” like drug use.
  • Working in the marijuana industry in the state, while potentially lucrative, could also harm your chances of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Even visiting a dispensary could possibly expose you to investigation or arrest by immigration authorities.

If you are detained or arrested related on a drug charge, it’s essential that you exercise your right to remain silent until you’ve spoken with a defense attorney about your case. Anything you admit to can be used against you to gain a conviction — and lying will only increase your problems. An attorney can work to protect your rights.