Working in the marijuana industry would no longer be a valid reason to block citizenship applications for immigrants or deny government-backed home loans to military veterans under new bills introduced on Wednesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Warren, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is teaming up with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) on the proposals.
The first bill from the bipartisan duo would add an exemption to current immigration policy so that working at a marijuana business in accordance with state law would not be considered grounds to deny naturalization.
In April, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo clarifying that engaging in cannabis-related activities, even if legal under local policy, means they do not have “good moral character” and are therefore unfit for citizenship.
“No one should have to worry about being denied naturalization for working in their state’s legal cannabis industry,” Warren said in a press release. “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that outdated federal cannabis laws don’t block the pathway to citizenship for those seeking it through naturalization.”
“Under current law, individuals are deemed to lack ‘good moral character’ and denied American citizenship due to their work in the legal cannabis industry in states like Colorado and Massachusetts. This has to stop,” Gardner added. “Currently 95 percent of Americans are living in states with laws allowing some form of cannabis. The dramatically expanded cannabis industry presents real challenges for our nation, and I’m proud to be working with Senator Warren to address these issues.”
The second new bill says that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “may not use the fact that [a veteran’s] income is derived, in whole or in part, from working in the marijuana industry as a factor in determining whether to guarantee, issue, or make a housing loan.”
That would overturn a current VA policy that denies home loan applications to military veterans work at cannabis businesses, even when they are complying with state laws.
The House of Representatives approved an amendment in July to shield veterans who work in the cannabis industry from such punishment, but it was dropped in negotiations with the Senate on a large-scale military bill last week.
“Veterans have sacrificed so much for this country, but our outdated federal marijuana laws prevent many veterans from getting the loans they need to buy homes,” Warren said. “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that veterans who work in their state’s legal cannabis industry can access VA home loans and realize the dream of homeownership.”
“The citizens of Colorado led the nation in adopting a new approach to cannabis, and our state’s veterans have fought for our country all over the world. It’s disgraceful that a veteran can be denied a benefit they earned serving our country because they have a job in a legitimate cannabis business,” said Gardner. “Unfortunately this isn’t the only policy failure due to conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. This is another example in the long list of reasons to pass the STATES Act, which Senator Warren and I introduced to respect the will of the people and take the states’ rights approach to legal cannabis.”
A companion bill is also being filed in the House by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Jennifer González-Colón (R-PR).
“The VA needs to catch up with the times and recognize the growing role of the cannabis economy in our country,” Clark, who also authored the House-passed amendment on the topic, said. “Our veterans shouldn’t be penalized or denied the benefits they have earned because they live and work in a state where marijuana is legal. We owe it to them to ensure that they can build their lives and pursue their dreams after their service, and that includes the dream of homeownership.”
“Achieving job security and having a stable home are two of the toughest challenges veterans face upon separating from the Armed Services. As Members of Congress, it is our duty to craft and modernize policies that can facilitate the acquisition of both. Through their service and sacrifices, our veterans have rightfully earned every benefit offered to them by the federal government,” said González-Colón. “That is why, putting their VA Home Loan at risk for embarking on the cannabis industry when done lawfully in accordance with local laws, is a mistake. I am proud to lead this bill, along with my colleagues, to continue removing obstacles for the success and wellbeing of veterans and their families.”
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) cheered the new legislation.
“In any effort to roll back failed marijuana policy, lawmakers must focus on ending the collateral harms vulnerable people still encounter due to federal prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, DPA’s policy manager, said. “As we work towards comprehensively ending the failed war on marijuana, we’re thankful for the leadership of Senators Warren and Gardner as they take important steps to mitigate harms faced by veterans and noncitizens working within legal marijuana markets.”
Warren and Gardner previously cosponsored broader legislation to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from federal enforcement. That bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, earned praised from President Trump but so far has not been scheduled for a hearing or a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.
It’s unclear if the new, more targeted and modest veterans and immigrations bills from the duo is an indication they believe their more far-reaching legislation doesn’t stand a chance of moving in the 116th Congress or if they just want to bring greater focus on particularly vulnerable populations harmed by current federal marijuana policy as a way of earning attention and support from other senators who might not otherwise consider the issue.
Read the full text of the new veterans- and immigrant-focused marijuana bills below: