The famous rocker, a Canadian citizen, wants to vote in America’s 2020 elections. But his naturalization hasn’t gone as planned.
Neil Young had a certain birthday present in mind this year: United States citizenship.
Everything seemed to be in place for him to take his oath on Tuesday, his 74th birthday, the Canadian singer told The Los Angeles Times last month. Amid what he called a “climate emergency,” he was looking forward to voting in the 2020 presidential election.
But Young’s marijuana use, something he has been open about for years, may stand in the way.
In general, someone applying for citizenship risks failing the government’s “good moral character” test if he illegally uses drugs. In April, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services clarified its policies, saying that applicants “involved in certain marijuana related activities” — even in states where the drug is legal, like Young’s current residence of California — may lack good moral character since marijuana use remains, in most instances, illegal under federal law.
“When I recently applied for American citizenship, I passed the test,” Young wrote on his website Friday. “It was a conversation where I was asked many questions. I answered them truthfully and passed.”
But he added that after the green light, he was “told that I must do another test, due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have exhibited a problem.”
Representatives for Young did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services said he could not comment on an individual application, but noted that “federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”
Young has freely discussed his marijuana use in interviews and books. In his 2012 memoir, he wrote of being arrested in a drug bust with other members of Buffalo Springfield, his 1960s band. And in his 2014 memoir, he wrote that the August 1976 all-nighter he spent writing his album “Hitchhiker” was interrupted “only for weed, beer, or cocaine.” Though he had said he stopped smoking marijuana in 2011, he has since begun again, he told The Los Angeles Times.
The naturalization process involves an application and an interview, which includes a civics test. Under the “good moral character” provision, someone who has committed a crime may be disqualified temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity. Another disqualifier: people known to have participated in torture in their native countries.
Drug use doesn’t automatically disqualify naturalization applicants, said Anastasia Tonello, an immigration lawyer in New York and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“Some people can be rehabilitated, and it doesn’t mean if you’ve done drugs or you’ve ever been arrested for something minor that you can never become a U.S. citizen,” Tonello said. “But it certainly would complicate the process.”
The Citizenship and Immigration Services policy says someone who violates federal drug law, or admits to doing so even if they have not been arrested, may fail the character test. The policy also includes an exception that Young probably would not qualify for: people with a “single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”
It’s unclear exactly what he meant when he wrote “another test,” since applications are typically denied if the interview doesn’t end in an approval, Tonello said. Second interviews are unusual, she said, but a person who is denied can reapply.
If Young does eventually gain citizenship, he will be eligible to vote as soon as he is sworn in.
“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,” Young wrote on his website.
If his past political preferences are any indication, Young has no intention of voting for President Trump. When the president announced his candidacy in 2015 with Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” playing in the background, Young’s manager objected and said Young was endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.