Groups warn marijuana use could still pose a deportation risk for non-citizens

Illinois Recreational Marijuana
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CHICAGO — Even though recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1, immigrant rights groups are warning cannabis use could lead to devastating consequences including deportation for people who are not citizens.

"Immigrants need to know these new state laws do not protect them," Diana Rashid of the National Immigrant Justice Center said during a press conference Wednesday.

Even when marijuana becomes legal on the state level, it's still illegal on the federal level. So getting caught possessing and using marijuana could lead federal agencies to deny benefits or citizenship, or even lead to deportation in some cases.

"This will impact not only people who are undocumented but all people who are not citizen – asylum or university visas, other kinds of status," West Suburban Action Project Executive Director Mony Ruiz-Velasco said.

Immigration groups say people who are not citizens should not admit to using marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, and should avoid working or investing in the state’s budding marijuana industry.

They're also urging people who have previous cannabis convictions to make sure they immediately get several copies of their criminal records.

"The state is going to be vacating and expunging convictions, but those will not really have an effect for immigration purposes," Ruiz-Velasco said.

Leaders from several immigration groups say they are working with state officials on ways to inform immigrant communities about avoiding the potential pitfalls of legalization.

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