Despite Relaxed Laws on Marijuana Possession, Immigrants May Face a Greater Burden if They Are Caught

Kerry Bretz Advises Those Who Are Arrested to Seek the Legal Help of an Immigration Attorney


New York, New York — Over the summer, New York State relaxed its laws regarding marijuana possession. Although these laws decriminalized possession of the drug and provided an avenue to attack prior convictions of those who were caught with the drug, police can still make arrests for marijuana possession and, for immigrants, that may result in deportation or loss of status; even if their prior conviction has been expunged, immigration officials may hold that against them and use it as an excuse to remove them from the country. Kerry Bretz, Partner, Bretz & Coven, LLP, urges immigrants who may face removal as the result of a current or previous arrest for marijuana possession to contact an immigration law attorney immediately.


On July 28, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law two separate bills that decriminalized marijuana possession. It also expunged the records of those who were previously convicted of this offense. The law went into effect on August 28. Other parts of the law include reducing Class B misdemeanors to violations and allowing marijuana to be burned or displayed in public view.


Despite these changes, Mr. Bretz says, immigrants will continue to face punishment if they are in possession of marijuana. “Police can still make arrests and that can negatively impact one’s immigration status,” he says. “Even if an immigrant has a prior conviction expunged, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] can search the immigrant’s name and address in their databases and commence removal proceedings, which could result in deportation from the country.”


In an effort to protect immigrants from deportation, the governor included the One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act in the state budget this past April, which predated his signing of the marijuana possession decriminalization bills into law. The Act reduces the maximum sentence for Class A and other misdemeanors from 365 to 364 days. By making the sentence less than one year, it can help immigrants living in New York State avoid deportation in certain circumstances. Those who received a misdemeanor conviction on or after April 12 will not face removal, but they may be subject to arrest, detention and deportation if they have more than one conviction.


“In addition to seeking help from a criminal defense attorney in the event they are arrested, immigrants should speak to an immigration law attorney to avoid detention or removal,” Mr. Bretz says. “The new laws are supposed to make it easier for immigrants to avoid deportation if they have a past or current marijuana possession conviction, but if ICE or BIA [Bureau of Immigration Affairs] recommends their removal, that is when immigrants should seek legal remedies to stay in the country.”


For more information, call (212) 267-2555 or visit




About Bretz & Coven, LLP

Bretz & Coven, LLP is an immigration law firm located in New York, New York and Clark, New Jersey. The firm serves clients in and around the tri-state area, including Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, as well as Kings County and Richmond County. Its team of dedicated attorneys is known for taking on cases that other lawyers turn down. Bretz & Coven assists individuals and their families understand the process of obtaining citizenship, New York residency or a green card and offer them a full range of options, including adjustment of status, asylum, available types of visas, waivers, removal defense, and special programs and treaties. The attorneys can also help immigrants avoid deportation. For more information, call (212) 267-2555 or visit