Exiled for Pot

Marijuana and deportation


During a 2007 traffic stop in Georgia, police found 1.3 grams of marijuana—enough for two or three joints—in Adrian Moncrieffe's car. As a first-time offender, Moncrieffe received five years of probation. But as a Jamaican citizen with a green card, he was sentenced to exile from the country he had called home since he was a toddler.

In May the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to stop Moncrieffe's deportation. The Court ruled that "the social sharing of a small amount of marijuana" does not qualify as an "aggravated felony," which triggers automatic deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Instead, the seven justices in the majority said, the attorney general has discretion in such cases to waive deportation. 

The federal government argued that its hands were tied, since the state charge to which Moncrieffe had pleaded guilty—possession with intent to distribute—qualifies as a felony under the Controlled Substances Act, punishable by up to five years in prison. But based on the facts of the case, the Court said, Moncrieffe's offense would have been treated as a misdemeanor in federal court. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "sharing a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration, let alone possession with intent to do so, does not fit easily into the everyday understanding of trafficking, which ordinarily means some sort of commercial dealing."