U.S. Supreme Court: no deportation based on Georgia pot conviction

Following is a story that manifestly reveals the stringent nature of Georgia’s drug laws and the potentially draconian outcome of a drug crimes case following conviction on a charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

In 2007, a Jamaican citizen and legal immigrant was arrested by police in Georgia after they discovered marijuana in his car during a traffic stop. The amount was small — 1.3 grams, described by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as “the equivalent of about two or three marijuana cigarettes.”

There was no evidence to indicate that the man was trying to sell the pot. Notwithstanding that, he was convicted of a felony under Georgia law.

National immigration officials used that conviction to invoke a provision under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act providing that any noncitizen convicted of an aggravated felony can be deported from the United States.

There was just one problem with that reasoning and action, ruled the Supreme Court this past Tuesday: Possession of an unarguably small amount of marijuana does not constitute a felony under federal law, even if it does under a state enactment.

With Justice Sotomayor writing for a 7-2 majority, the Court ruled that the man could not be removed from the United States based on the state conviction and his act amounting to “the social sharing of a small amount of marijuana.”

Sotomayor wrote that the Georgia conviction “failed to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana.”

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “Justices say marijuana possession not a deportable offense,” Lawrence Hurley, April 23, 2013