A Drug Charge in a State That Has Decriminalized Marijuana Will Still Impact Immigration Status

Interviewer: If someone is in Colorado, for instance, and gets a DUI that has marijuana involvement, will that affect their immigration status?

Jeanne Morales: I believe so because in immigration law, possession of marijuana paraphernalia conviction for them is a possession of marijuana conviction.

For just having a pipe, they’re going to link it to marijuana use and say that you have a marijuana conviction. My best guess would be that it would not go well for you. It’s extremely difficult. It’s extremely time-consuming.

In some cases, it is difficult to predict outcomes because as on the aggravated felony, there’s a list of offenses that qualify. We’re now in interpretive law, and that’s why we go to court because everybody has got to argue about what that means.

Interviewer: What states have you worked with in addition to Texas?

Jeanne Morales: I have clients in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and I think a couple of Florida convictions. If we’re going to argue that it’s this part of the law and not that part of the law, we have to go to the statute. In California with that grand theft case, I had to download all the information about theft crimes in California and read it and digest it. I then had to write an argument brief for the court to say why it was not a crime and that he should be deported for because he was picking up scrap metal.

The way California writes their theft laws, it was very difficult because they put everything at the kitchen sink in this one law and it was one of the harder ones to try and wade through. I had no idea what’s going to happen when somebody avails themselves of, say, Washington or Colorado’s decriminalization of marijuana except where, again, a state can change its own laws but they can’t change federal law.

Conspiracies and Attempts to Commit Aggravated Felonies Affect Immigration Status the Same Way a Conviction Might

By the way, on this aggravated felony, it’s important for them to understand that attempts or conspiracies to commit these offenses are just as bad as doing the offense. I had a client the other day who wanted to argue with me that he should be okay because he stood outside the building that his two buddies burgled. What he was convicted of is burgling because most days, if you drive the getaway car, you’re still part of the criminal conspiracy to do x, y, z.

In his mind, he was not as guilty as the two people who burgled the building. What he pled guilty to and was convicted of and served time for was straight up burglary. That would have occurred in most situations because most states treat all the members of the criminal enterprise the same.

I’ve had people get convicted of drug crimes when they were not in possession of drugs. But they were driving the lookout car that was by miles ahead the car that was carrying the drugs. They were in communication with the car that was carrying the drugs.

Whether you’re the lookout or the one who pulls the trigger, the law in general is not going to see a difference.  And definitely, in immigration law they’re not going to see a difference between the two of you.