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Matter of Wilmer Rodrigo Castro Rodriguez

The Board confirmed that distribution of a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration is not an aggravated felony, placed the burden of proving that on the respondent, and held the parties may resort to evidence outside the record of conviction to prove whether the amount is "small" and whether the distribution was gratuitous.

A state conviction is an aggravated felony under INA 101(a)(43)(B) for drug trafficking if it would be punishable as a felony under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Distribution of marijuana is a felony under the CSA, except where the defendant proves as an affirmative defense it involved a “small amount of marihuana for no remuneration,” in which case it is a federal misdemeanor. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(4). In states where the penal statute does not provide a similar defense, the Board held an alien put in removal proceedings on the basis of a marijuana distribution conviction can prove the exception to avoid the aggravated felony definition.

The Board also clarified procedural aspects of the exception. It held the exception is of a "'circumstance-specific' nature," so the parties can use evidence outside the record of conviction to prove or rebut the requirements for the exception. Further, the Board put the burden on the respondent to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the applicability of the exception since it is an affirmative defense under the criminal statute.

The Board declined, however, to set a bright line rule on what amount of marijuana should be considered "small." It recognized that a useful guidepost was the exception from deportability for a single offense of simple possession for personal use of 30 grams or less of marijuana. It found, however, that amounts of less than 30 grams would not be considered small in some situations, such as in a prison.

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