Four congressional Democrats from Colorado sent a letter to the heads of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, imploring the officials to end a policy preventing immigrants who work in the marijuana industry from gaining U.S. citizenship.
The letter comes after a federal immigration agency released a memo last week clarifying that immigrants who use cannabis or work at a marijuana business in compliance with state law could have their naturalization applications rejected. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said such activities demonstrate that applicants lack “good moral character.”
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), who led the letter, said he wrote it in response to the cases of two Coloradans who were seeking citizenship but were denied by USCIS on the sole basis that they’ve worked in the state’s legal cannabis market.
“The recent incident in Denver, where two individuals were denied naturalization because of legal work in the cannabis industry, is completely unacceptable and reinforces the need to end the conflict between federal and state laws regarding cannabis,” Neguse said in a press release. “That is why my colleagues and I have called on the Department of Justice to immediately clarify their position and take steps necessary to resolve this issue.”
Today, along with @RepJasonCrow @RepDianaDeGette & @RepPerlmutter, I sent a letter to AG Barr and Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan urging them to change guidance that allowed two individuals in Colorado to be denied citizenship for past work in our state’s legal Cannabis industry. pic.twitter.com/uevky7xbKP
— Rep. Joe Neguse (@RepJoeNeguse) May 2, 2019
Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Jason Crow (D-CO) also signed the letter, which called for a “rescission of this policy and—at the very minimum—clarification on the process as it stands.”
In the letter, the lawmakers argued that the two Coloradans denied citizenship were not informed of the “elements of potential crimes which USCIS apparently believes they could be indicted for” and that they were therefore not “provided the opportunity to defend themselves on why their conduct did not qualify as a crime or meet the elements of the alleged crime at issue.” They listed three requests for the Trump appointees:
“1) retract the current policy and replace it with a policy consistent with the Cole Memorandum in which the ‘good moral character’ standard respects settled state expectations on cannabis;
“2) If not, at the minimum describe how the standards for taking an ‘admission’ will be implemented, and what will be done in cases where they were not implemented such as the two cases identified in this letter; and
“3) Provide additional guidance and the departments’ legal basis for construing employment in the lawful cannabis industry as a negative factor for establishing good moral character in the naturalization process, especially given that employees have no reason to know that they are in technical violation of an unenforced Federal law.”
The letter also references Attorney General William Barr’s remarks at his confirmation hearing, during which he pledged not to use Justice Department resources to go after state-legal marijuana businesses.
“In Colorado, the cannabis market is a legal and legitimate industry which employs thousands of employees and brings millions of dollars into our economy,” Perlmutter said. “I have long pushed for aligning state and federal law on cannabis to avoid issues like the one in these cases. I encourage DOJ to issue guidance to ensure those who have been or continue to be employed in the legal cannabis industry are not barred from citizenship they have earned,” he said.
I have long pushed for aligning state & federal law on cannabis to avoid issues like the one in these cases. Those who have been or continue to be employed in the legal cannabis industry should not be barred from citizenship they have earned. https://t.co/klNyxwKxX7
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) May 3, 2019
DeGette said it is “shameful how this administration is choosing to punish the hardworking men and women who work in our state’s cannabis industry. There’s no reason why an immigrant who works legally here in our state should be treated differently than anyone else.”
It’s shameful how this admin is choosing to punish the hardworking people who work in CO's cannabis industry. There’s no reason why an immigrant who works legally in our state should be treated differently than anyone else.
Read our letter to DOJ & DHS: https://t.co/iccVj0SYpa
— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) May 3, 2019
You can read the lawmakers’ letter below:
Letter to DOJ/DHS on mariju… by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.
The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”
“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.
The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.
Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.
If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”
The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”
Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.
Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.
Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.
Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below:
Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans
To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.
“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”
“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.
In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”
The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.
Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care. That's why I introduced the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference.
— Barbara Lee (@BLeeForCongress) November 11, 2019
“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.
“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”
“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”
VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.
Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.
“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”
“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.
“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”
Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.