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Drug Convictions and Adjustment of Status – John Lennon’s Adjustment of Status case

Drug convictions and Immigration Laws are very complicated and require careful analysis. The good news is that a person cannot be deported from the U.S. for Possession of Marijuana as long as the amount does not exceed 30 grams. However, a conviction for any other type of marijuana offense other than simple possession of 30 grams or less requires mandatory deportation.

INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i) provides as follows:
Any alien who at time after admission has been convicted of a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802), other than a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of thirty grams or less of marijuana is deportable.

In addition to making an alien inadmissible, an admission to a controlled substance offense also makes that person ineligible to adjust status (for example, through an immediate relative or spouse). 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1255(a) provides that persons must be “admissible” in order to be eligible to adjust his/her status to lawful permanent residence.

Furthermore, there is no waiver of inadmissibility or other grounds of relief for a person who has admitted to committing a controlled substance offense other than simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.

The important question is, therefore, what constitutes an admission to “committing acts which constitute the essential elements of…a violation relating to a controlled substance”.

We posted below AILA’s (formerly the Association of Immigration and Nationality Lawyers) amicus brief arguing Lennon’s 1968 marijuana conviction was not for a crime involving mens rea, and urging the rejection of the decision to deny his adjustment of status.

The argument put forth by Immigration officials at the time to deny his application for permanent residency in the U.S. was on account of having been charged in England with possession of cannabis and obstructing justice. Yet when the case made it to the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Irving R. Kaufman ruled that the conviction “need not be recognized under U.S. Immigration law” and ordered INS to adjudicate Lennon’s residence case without considering the conviction. In spite of this favorable ruling that would have cleared the path for Lennon to acquire his immigration goal, the INS would not have it; they were set on denying him this privilege. And so it quickly became evident there were ulterior motives for keeping him out of the country.