Immigration authorities properly denied a Colorado woman's application for naturalized citizenship because her marijuana use did not amount to "good moral character," a federal judge has ruled.
Because marijuana is still outlawed federally, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Y. Wang agreed the government was required to deny the application of Swiss native Leina Giger, notwithstanding Colorado's legalization of the substance under state law.
"Even if Plaintiff were over 21 years old when she committed her offenses, and even if they were legal under state law, the fact that her admitted, repeated offenses remain illegal under federal law preclude approval of her application," Wang wrote in an Oct. 12 order.
Becoming a naturalized citizen requires that a person reside continuously in the United States for a certain period, as well as demonstrate "good moral character." A person is lacking in good moral character — thus becoming ineligible for citizenship — if they engage in certain behaviors in the five years before their application, including being a "habitual drunkard," being convicted of an aggravated felony, or admitting to a crime involving a controlled substance.
Giger has lived in Boulder since 2017 and applied for citizenship two years later. In March 2018, following a traffic stop in Texas, police charged her for possessing 1.1 grams of marijuana, as well as some marijuana paraphernalia. After Giger satisfied the court-ordered terms and paid a fine, the case was dismissed.
During her naturalization interview, Giger admitted to using marijuana approximately 10 times between high school and 2018, when she was 19 years old. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services subsequently denied her application. Although Colorado voters in 2012 legalized marijuana possession for adults older than 21, Giger's admitted teenage use was "not consistent with the standards of the average citizen in the community," wrote USCIS.
Giger then appealed the government's decision.
Wang acknowledged the law does not preclude naturalization for people who have committed a single marijuana possession offense, up to 30 grams. But even though Giger possessed far below that threshold when stopped in Texas, she had nonetheless stated she used marijuana on 10 total occasions.
"Congress was clear that its bar on naturalization applies to those who 'admit' to the violation of state or federal controlled substances laws, not just those who have been convicted of such offenses," Wang wrote.
Further, Giger's offense also involved possession of drug paraphernalia, which Wang did not believe fell under the exception for a single instance of drug possession.
Finally, Wang concluded that even if Giger had consumed marijuana in Colorado, Giger still had violated state law in admitting to her underage use.
The judge cautioned, however, that Giger's drug charge in Texas would fall outside the five-year window for evaluating good moral character as of March 2023. She expressed "no judgment as to the appropriate outcome" if Giger were to reapply for naturalization then.
The case is Giger v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.