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How NY Marijuana Legalization Impacts Immigrants with Past Convictions

On March 31, 2021, New York became the 17th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis. The Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act (MTRA) also includes a provision that automatically expunges prior marijuana convictions if those crimes would now be legal under the new law, which means past charges will be “treated as if they never happened.” 

But what about New York immigrants who are concerned that a past marijuana conviction might negatively affect their status or make them at risk for deportation? The truth is marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal and a pot conviction—despite expungement—can still be the basis for detention and removal proceedings under U.S. immigration law. 

According to federal law, a conviction of a drug crime can be grounds for deportation – unless a green card holder is convicted of a single charge for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis. In a report by Human Rights Watch, over 34,000 immigrants were deported throughout the country for marijuana possession between fiscal years 2007 and 2012. 

Fortunately, the new law addresses such complications. State lawmakers worked together with the Immigration Defense Project and other advocacy groups to ensure the MRTA includes a process for non-citizens to have their past conviction vacated and such expungement recognized under immigration law. The Office of Court Administration has 60 days to establish the exact steps of the process. 

Lastly, the Immigration Defense Project warned New York immigrants to avoid applying for a medical marijuana card or a license to sell, grow, or otherwise be part of the marijuana industry since such actions could still jeopardize a federal immigration case. In addition, destroying records of prior marijuana arrests and convictions can also harm an immigration case because such action could essentially destroy proof of expungement. 

If you are an immigrant who is interested in getting a past marijuana conviction expunged in Long Island, contact Laurence A. Silverman & Associates today at (631) 816-2684 for a free initial consultation. Se habla Español. 

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