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 “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that outdated federal cannabis laws don’t block the pathway to citizenship for those seeking it through naturalization.”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“Veterans have sacrificed so much for this country, but our outdated federal marijuana laws prevent many veterans from getting the loans they need to buy homes,” Warren said.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:
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.