The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Immigrants

Marijuana convictions, regardless of their age or severity, can disqualify a person from immigration status or be the basis of their deportation. For years, IDP has been working to educate communities, advocates, and allies on the immigration consequences of a marijuana conviction. IDP helped build an inclusive marijuana legalization framework that takes into account the unique vulnerability of immigrants given our country’s harsh immigration laws that punish marijuana convictions with deportation, ineligibility for immigration status, and immigration detention. Learn more about the intersection of the war on drugs and immigration here.

Fighting for Federal Marijuana Justice

For decades, IDP has fought for marijuana justice, including the end of prohibition in New York State passed last year. But action on the federal level is still urgently needed. IDP is a proud member of the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which is building a national movement for passage of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The MORE Act legislation that would deschedule and decriminalize cannabis, resentence federal convictions, and take a major step toward ending collateral consequences for cannabis-related activity, including immigration consequences. In April of 2022, IDP celebrated the House of Representatives bipartisan passage of MORE and are urging the Senate to follow suit.

Winning Marijuana Justice in New York

For years, IDP has been a proud member of the START Smart Coalition, which has led the fight for marijuana justice in New York State. On March 30, 2021, we were thrilled when the New York legislature reversed years of harmful criminalization by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The legislation creates a legal recreational marijuana market in New York. For years, New York marijuana convictions have caused immeasurable harm to immigrant communities and fueled the disproportionate arrests of Black and Latinx New Yorkers.

Understanding the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)

Marijuana convictions—no matter how old or how small—can disqualify a person from immigration status or be the basis of their deportation. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) will addresses this issue by legalizing recreational marijuana in New York and creating a pathway to vacate past marijuana convictions. By passing the MRTA, New York State ensures effective marijuana reform for all New Yorkers, including immigrants, while using the additional tax revenue to invest in the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

New York’s New Marijuana Law: A Train the Trainer Experience

In 2021, the Immigrant Defense Project, the Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders and the Drug Policy Alliance gave a Train the Trainer presentation for community leaders, attorneys, journalists, and others who need to understand the MRTA and its impact on communities.

Part One

  • The rights of young people and adults who possess or consume marijuana in public
  • The laws related to driving while possessing or consuming marijuana
  • Special considerations for immigrants as a result of the continued federal prohibition on marijuana use and possession

You can download the full presentation slides for part one or download the slides for part one, without the presentation tips, in English or Spanish.

Part Two

  • Information about what convictions were automatically expunged by the MRTA
  • How individuals can ensure they aren’t illegally denied housing, employment, or other benefits or services as a result of an old marijuana conviction
  • How immigrants can access a special process to ensure old marijuana convictions will not result in deportation or denial of citizenship

You can download the full presentation slides for part two or download the slides for part two, without the presentation tips, in English or Spanish.


Tip of the ICEberg: Immigrants Impacted by the War on Drugs

In 2018, IDP published Tip of the ICEberg: Immigration Consequences of a Marijuana Offense. The flip-book is a primer on how the criminalization has led to to the detention and deportation of countless immigrants. It also tells the stories of four immigrants who have been directly impacted by our cruel drugs laws. Click through the flip-book to learn more.

Best Practices for Decriminalization & Legalization

In 2020, in collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, IDP released Best Practices: Protecting Immigrants When Decriminalizing or Legalizing Marijuana. View this resource for best practices for municipalities and states looking to decriminalize in a way that lessens the immigration-related harms of marijuana criminalization.