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Lawmakers Demand End To Policy Punishing Immigrants Working In Marijuana Industry

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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.”

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.

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.”

You can read the lawmakers’ letter below:

Letter to DOJ/DHS on mariju… by on Scribd

Why Congressional Democrats Are Foregoing A Process Once Seen As Key To Marijuana Reform

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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