In New Jersey, a DWI is most commonly associated with alcohol. However, that is not the only way an individual can be charged with driving while under the influence. Under New Jersey statute 39:4-50, the law encompasses driving under the influence of not only intoxicating liquor, but also narcotics, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drugs. In other words, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana can give rise to a DWI charge just as easily as driving impaired due to alcohol.
Although legislation to legalize marijuana abruptly stalled late last month, it is only a matter of time before the issue is revived, perhaps as early as June of this year. In spite of this, legalization of cannabis remains a hot legislative priority for a growing number of states around the country. Perhaps with that in mind, USCIS recently issued a policy alert regarding controlled substance activity and good moral character determinations. The thrust of the bulletin essentially highlights what is often misunderstood by the public: marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substances and under federal law, manufacture, cultivation, possession or distribution is prohibited. Even if possession of marijuana is legal in a state jurisdiction, this does not nullify federal immigration consequences for foreign nationals since our immigration law is federal in nature.
While most non-US citizens are generally aware that being convicted of a major crime may render them deportable, many will often underestimate the impact of certain traffic offenses on their immigration status. In New Jersey, for example, there is a traffic offense that is often charged as a companion offense to criminal offenses involving drugs, namely, 39:4-49.1 Drug Possession by Motor Vehicle Operator. This particular offense can be particularly virulent to a non-citizen because it is often dismissed as a something that is not criminal when, in fact, it is actually quite nasty.