Weed might get you high, but if you’re an immigrant, it might also get you deported.
Advocates are warning all immigrants in Illinois — even those with legal status — to stay away from cannabis as dispensaries across the state prepare to dole out the drug in less than three weeks.
“Even though as of Jan. 1, marijuana is legal in Illinois, non-citizens should not use, invest, work, sell or manufacture marijuana as that will impact their immigration case,” Diana Rashid, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said at a news conference Wednesday.
“Immigrants need to know that these new state laws do not protect them.”
The federal government — which handles all immigration casework — still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin. Therefore, immigrants found in possession of the drug risk being detained and possibly deported to their home country, regardless of state law.
And despite efforts to expunge minor cannabis-related criminal records in Illinois, federal authorities will still take those convictions in consideration when reviewing an immigrant’s right to live and work in the United States.
“We advise people to get two to three copies of their certified dispositions for any cannabis-related offense they were convicted of . . . because if the records have been expunged, they’ll eventually be destroyed but immigration will continue to require them,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project.
Advocates are working with state officials to get the word out to immigrant communities about the risks posed by carrying legalized cannabis.
“We’re also hoping dispensaries will put up notices warning immigrants about the risks they’re taking buying their product,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
But some worry immigration agencies will start pouncing on immigrants in Illinois for weed-related offenses once it’s legalized.
“Some of the things that we’ve seen in places like California and Colorado give us a preview of what we’re going to see here,” said Kathleen Vannucci, an attorney and officer at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“Immigration officers are often asking questions at the border or at airports about cannabis use in states where cannabis has been legalized, and just by admitting they’ve used cannabis in the past can get someone in a lot of trouble.”
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.