Previous Marijuana Charges Still Impact Immigrants Despite New Jersey Legalizing Cannabis

New Jersey Legalizing Cannabis

On February 22, 2021 Governor Phil Murphy signed the Cannabis Reform Bill into law, legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana for adults 21 years and older. While immigrants can be less concerned about being charged with possession or use of marijuana in the State of New Jersey going forward, immigrants with previous marijuana charges, regardless of whether they are lawful permanent residents (Green Card Holders) or without status, are still impacted by prior marijuana charges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Waseem Ahsan Khan v. Attorney General of the United States of America, held that the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction are fixed at the time of conviction. Waseem Ahsan Khan was a lawful permanent resident (Green Card Holder) who pleaded guilty to possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana in 2006 in the State of Connecticut. Waseem argued that his previous marijuana charge should not impact his eligibility for immigration relief because the State of Connecticut had decriminalized marijuana in 2011. The Court disagreed with Waseem’s argument stating that, “the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction are typically fixed at the time of conviction and not altered by post-conviction developments in the law.”

It is important that immigrants with prior marijuana charges in the State of New Jersey discuss their matter with an immigration attorney before seeking any type of immigration or post-conviction relief. New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir S. Grewal, issued a directive directing New Jersey Courts to vacate by operation of law any guilty verdict, plea, placement in diversionary program, or other entry of guilt on a matter where the conduct/charges occurred prior to February 22, 2021 for certain marijuana charges. Immigrants who have their prior marijuana charges vacated and dismissed based on Attorney General Grewal’s directive will still be impacted by their previous charge for immigration purposes.

This does not mean that all hope is lost for immigrants with prior marijuana charges in the State of New Jersey. The Third Circuit did clarify that prior marijuana convictions that are vacated based on a defect in the underlying criminal proceeding will no longer carry immigration consequences. Essentially, if mistakes were made in the criminal or municipal proceeding with regard to an immigrant’s previous marijuana charge, the immigrant could have the charges vacated in a manner that will relieve him or her from the immigration consequences associated with those charges.

Contact Tourzani Law Group, LLC today at (201) 987-0036 to schedule an in person or virtual consultation.