Today is Neil Young’s 74th birthday. He’s a grandmaster of musical artists, and the canon of recorded music is far richer thanks to the contributions of the Godfather of Grunge. He’s been recognized for his talents, having received several Grammys; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him twice; in 2000, Rolling Stone named Young the 34th greatest rock ‘n roll artist. He was awarded the Order of Manitoba on July 14, 2006, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on December 30, 2009.
Neil has kept his Candian citizenship, but for decades has made Northern California his primary residence. Because he would like to vote in our upcoming elections next year, which you may have heard something about, he has applied to become a US citizen. His application process was going swimmingly, until it wasn’t.
“When I recently applied for American citizenship, I passed the test. It was a conversation where I was asked many questions. I answered them truthfully and passed,” Young wrote earlier this week. “Recently however, I have been told that I must do another test, due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have exhibited a problem.”
CNN picks up the story from there, noting that “According to guidance issued by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in April, an applicant who is found to have violated federal law on controlled substances, including marijuana, could be found to lack ‘good moral character’—one of the general requirements for naturalization. That policy applies regardless of state or local laws on marijuana use.”
Wait… what? Are you telling me we’re looking to deny Neil Young U.S. citizenship over cannabis use?
That is possible, per the UCIS, who explain that while they can’t comment specifically on Neil’s application,
“Individuals who commit federal controlled substance violations face potential immigration consequences under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which applies to all foreign nationals regardless of the state or jurisdiction in which they reside. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level. Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”
CNN points out that things might have been different for Neil had he applied before Southern Man and Keebler Elf Jeff Sessions became attorney general and rescinded the Cole Memo, which took a hands-off approach when it came to those states with cannabis programs, whether medical or recreational.
And it most likely doesn’t help matters that Neil has been an outspoken critic of Trump.
In 2015, he called the candidate out for unauthorized use of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and last year, after the California wildfires burned down his home, Young criticized Trump’s comments that the fires were caused by “gross mismanagement of the forests.”
“California is vulnerable—not because of poor forest management as DT (our so-called president) would have us think,” wrote Young. “We are vulnerable because of climate change; the extreme weather events and our extended drought is part of it.
Imagine a leader who defies science, saying these solutions shouldn’t be part of his decision-making on our behalf. Imagine a leader who cares more for his own, convenient option than he does for the people he leads.”
This leaves Neil having to live with the needling and the damage done. While he hopes his application will be approved, he may have to wait to find out from somewhere outside the country.
“I sincerely hope I have exhibited good moral character and will be able to vote my conscience on Donald J. Trump and his fellow American candidates, (as yet unnamed),” Young writes. “I will keep you posted, but I don’t think I will be able to remain parked here during the proceedings.”
Don’t let it bring you down, Neil. Cannabis consumers everywhere are sending good thoughts.