Cannabis Is Legal In California But For Non-Citizens, There’s A Catch

Photo Credit: Nathan O'Neal

California’s progression to legalizing marijuana hasn’t been all peace-out and chill.

First, many of the new commercial operations set up to grow and supply legal marijuana were burnt out in wildfires late last year.

Then on January 1, when adult recreational use became legal, few places had completed the necessary paperwork or seen their licenses to legally sell cannabis emerge from the bureaucratic rubberstamping process.

Medical pot stores, which have been legal in California for more than two decades, must receive new state permits to continue operating and many haven’t arrived yet.

And now, there’s a cautionary tale for Australians in California — even though dope consumption is now legal in the state, non-citizens could still land themselves in hot water for indulging. It could have serious consequences should you ever wish to live there full-time.

Anyone who isn’t a United States citizen would be careful before they partake, warns an article in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Lurking in the background is the fact that while marijuana for recreational use may be legal in California and other states, it remains illegal under US federal law.

Until now, President Donald Trump’s administration had made no massive moves to interfere or prosecute in any state where pot was sold legally to adults.

But earlier this week, US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama administration memo that recommended a hands-off approach to marijuana prosecution in states that have legalized it’s use, indicating a possible crackdown on the federal law.

So, while medicinal marijuana store owners in LA take out billboards near Los Angeles International Airport advertising their wares and word of mouth is backed up with promotions in bars and streets, visiting Aussies should know that smoking weed could still land them in trouble.

“It doesn’t take a conviction for using it to affect a non-citizen’s future. If a port official finds out that someone entering the US with a visa has used the drug, the official can ban the person from the country for life,” the Tribune reported.

If a green card holder is selected for a search after travelling outside the US, and officials find a receipt from a dispensary, mobile phone or social media photos at a pot shop, or any other evidence which indicates the immigrant has had marijuana, the person could be kicked out of the US.

“One of the grounds for inadmissibility is whether you are a drug abuser or drug addict,” immigration lawyer Andrew Nietor told the paper.

“The big problem right now is that there is so much confusion that someone could engage in an activity that involves them getting a license from the state, and the Federal Government could say that activity is unlawful and result in permanent exile from the US.

“That is interpreted fairly conservatively. Any admission of prior drug use will often lead to a presumption that the person has a controlled substance problem.”

Another immigration lawyer, Allan Lolly, said he had seen clients apply for visas, especially from the UK or Jamaica, and have them refused over marijuana use.

More than 1300 immigrants were refused visas because of drug use in the 2016 financial year, according Department of State figures.

And more than 3000 people were unable to get temporary visas for the same reasons.

Non-citizens were also warned not to get caught with marijuana at national parks or on other federal land, because people can be charged under federal law there, with the possibility of deportation.


Marijuana has been one of California’s main cash crops — albeit largely on the black market — for years.

Now, with the new law building on one which allowed people to consume marijuana for medicinal use, that black market worth about $13.5 billion could be worth $5.1 billion — legally — in 2018, USA Today reports.

Five other American states offer legal marijuana sales, but the entry of California into the market is tipped to reshape the marijuana industry worldwide, with the thinking that as well as netting hundreds of millions in tax dollars, the move will also see many dealers go “straight”.

Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California all voted to make recreational marijuana use legal for adults in 2016. It is also legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Washington DC.

The new Californian laws mean adults aged 21 and over are allowed to possess up to one ounce (about 28 grams) of marijuana at a time, and cultivate up to six plants — as long as they are out of public view.

Speaking of public view, locals also urge visitors to be discreet. While it’s not unusual to see and smell weed in public, it’s not legal to smoke it in public or in a car, it’s not legal to carry it on a plane and if you’re carrying it in a car, it has to be sealed.