Biden Administration Must Remove Marijuana as a Federally Controlled Substance

Black and Brown Communities are Disproportionately Affected by Unfair Drug Laws

(Washington)--As the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undergoes its review process, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) calls on the agency and the Biden administration to completely remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act. The ILRC urges this action despite the recent announcement from the Health and Human Services (HHS) recommending that marijuana be rescheduled, rather than descheduled. HHS's recommendation would not repair the harms created by the War on Drugs and other policing practices targeting Black and Brown communities.

Immigrants are particularly affected by the federal categorization of marijuana as a controlled substance, even where  marijuana use has been legalized by states.  A conviction of possessing marijuana for immigrants can lead to immigration detention and deportation, perpetuating a vicious cycle of family separation and injustice. 

Without descheduling marijuana as the ILRC urges,  federal rules regarding marijuana continue to apply in these ways:

  • Lawful permanent residents who are authorized employees in the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry, as office staff, farmworkers, or other positions — are barred from becoming United States citizens. Because marijuana is on federal schedules, they are deemed “drug traffickers” who lack “good moral character.”
  • For the same reason, relatives of U.S. citizens who work in the cannabis industry will be denied a family visa and are subject to deportation. 
  • Immigrants who, in accord with state law, use recreational marijuana in their home also cannot naturalize or get a family visa – because it is a federal controlled substance.
  • Any immigrant who uses medical cannabis, under a doctor’s care, in accord with state law, as part of treatment for glaucoma, epilepsy, chronic pain, or the side effects of chemotherapy cannot naturalize or get a green card.

“Despite campaigns won in many states and localities as a result of organizing by Black and Brown communities to legalize marijuana, immigrant communities continue to face permanent exile because of the federal government’s failure to act to deschedule marijuana,” said ILRC Directing Attorney Kathy Brady. “The ILRC has worked for years to address the harms of unfair drug laws and we will continue to push the Biden administration to ensure fairness for all.”


The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC works to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities.