Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a 2020 presidential candidate, introduced legislation in the Senate on Thursday that would end the practice of denying citizenship to and deporting immigrants over marijuana offenses.
Under current law, more than 34,000 immigrants were deported for cannabis possession between 2007 and 2012, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
In April, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo clarifying that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related activities—including working at a state-licensed dispensary or cultivation operation—makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship because it means that they do not have “good moral character.”
Booker’s new bill, called the Remove Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act, would make it so that marijuana use, possession and distribution are no longer grounds for inadmissibility or deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Despite the growing number of states moving to legalize marijuana for recreational or medical use, it remains federally prohibited. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has regularly used low-level cannabis and drug offenses to target immigrants for deportation, Booker’s office said in a press release.
“This Administration’s efforts to use marijuana possession as a tool for deportation is disgraceful and misguided. Limited law enforcement resources should not be wasted on deporting people for something two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing,” Booker said. “This legislation will remove another one of ICE’s weapons that have been deployed to execute this Administration’s hardline immigration policy.”
The legislation would also make it so that anyone previously denied a visa to enter the U.S. as a result of marijuana would be able to reapply, and further specifies that any immigrant who was deported for cannabis could be readmitted and have their visa reissued.
Groups of House and Senate lawmakers have sent letters in recent weeks urging the Trump administration to rescind the policy that counts marijuana as a strike against immigrants’ “good moral character.”
“Thousands of families, including those with U.S. citizen spouses and children, have been permanently destroyed by deportation of a family member based on conviction of a minor offense involving use of marijuana,” Katherine Brady, senior staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said in an email.
“Furthermore, the Trump Administration is making it a national priority to penalize conduct with marijuana that is legally permitted under state law. Immigrants who work in the legitimate cannabis industry, from farmworkers to office workers, and who pay federal and state income taxes for their work are facing severe penalties for being ‘drug traffickers,'” she said. “So are their minor children. Even people who use medical marijuana in their own homes, in accord with state law, are being penalized. They are being denied naturalization because they lack ‘good moral character,’ and in some cases are deported. Senator Booker’s bill would reverse many of these injustices.”
In a related development, the House of Representatives approved a bill earlier this month to create a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children. While criminal convictions can count against so-called DREAMers under the legislation, it includes a carve-out specifically noting that low-level cannabis offenses, or engaging in state-legal marijuana activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not jeopardize their eligibility.
Among current presidential contenders, Booker has been one of the most consistent supporters of marijuana and drug policy reform. He previously filed legislation titled the Marijuana Justice Act that would deschedule cannabis and withhold funding from states with racially discriminatory prohibition enforcement.
At Wednesday’s presidential debate, he spoke about his opposition to private prisons and the criminalization of addiction.
Last week, Booker unveiled a plan to commute the sentences of 17,000 people serving time in federal prisons for drug offenses. More than half of those affected by the move, which he pledged to initiate on the first day of his presidency, are serving time for cannabis convictions.
In other congressional cannabis news, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) filed legislation on Thursday that would legalize interstate marijuana sales and shipments.
Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances One Step In South Dakota
South Dakota’s attorney general filed an official explanation of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana on Friday.
While separate organizations are working to get a medical cannabis-focused initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot, activists behind this measure are hoping to incorporate recreational legalization, medical marijuana reform and hemp into one package.
Adult-use legalization would be accomplished through a constitutional amendment under the initiative, which would separately require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp.
South Dakota Attorney General releases explanation on proposed constitutional amendment to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; to require passage of laws regarding hemp as well as laws regarding marijuana for medical use. Read it here: https://t.co/k33buSKjIJ pic.twitter.com/pEG0RxbDj9
— SD Attorney General (@SDAttorneyGen) August 16, 2019
“The constitutional amendment legalizes the possession, use, transport, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia by people age 21 and older. Individuals may possess or distribute one ounce or less of marijuana,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) wrote. “Marijuana plants and marijuana produced from those plants may also be possessed under certain conditions.”
The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be responsible for issuing licenses for cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Individual jurisdictions would be able to opt out of allowing such facilities in their areas.
“The Department must enact rules to implement and enforce this amendment,” the explanation states. “The amendment requires the Legislature to pass laws regarding medical use of marijuana. The amendment does not legalize hemp; it requires the Legislature to pass laws regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp.”
The initiative calls for a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. That revenue would be used to fund the Department of Revenue’s implementation and regulation of the legal cannabis system, with remaining tax dollars going toward public education and the state general fund.
Ravnsborg said that judicial clarification of the amendment “may be necessary” and notes that marijuana “remains illegal under Federal law.”
The attorney general issued a similar explanation of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis earlier this month.
This latest move comes one day after advocacy organization New Approach South Dakota announced that their medical marijuana initiative was certified, enabling them to begin the signature gathering process.
Several other cannabis initiatives are in the process of being certified in the state, according to the attorney general’s website. In order to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, activists must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters.
South Dakota is one of the last remaining states in the U.S. that has not legalized marijuana for any purposes.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Indian Tribes Includes Marijuana Legalization
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan on Friday that’s aimed at holding the federal government accountable for following through on its obligations to Native American tribes, and that includes ensuring that tribal marijuana programs are protected against federal intervention.
The plan emphasized Warren’s support for a bill she filed earlier this year that “would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.”
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has faced criticism over claims of Native American heritage, pointed to federal reports showing that tribal programs generally have not received adequate funding and said it is imperative that legislation be enacted to “provide resources for housing, education, health care, self-determination, and public safety” for those communities.
To that end, Warren is planning to introduce a bill called the “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act” alongside Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Before filing, however, the lawmakers are soliciting input on how best to draft the legislation, and are accepting written testimony until September 30.
While the proposed legislation itself doesn’t currently include marijuana-specific provisions, a press release and blog post on the topic address the senator’s sponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow tribal communities and states to set their own cannabis policies without Justice Department interference.
In order to provide economic opportunities to Native people, that “requires streamlining and removing unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respecting tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promoting forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities.”
“For example, while not every tribe is interested in the economic opportunities associated with changing laws around marijuana, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important opportunity for economic development,” Warren’s campaign blog post states.
“I support full marijuana legalization, and have also introduced and worked on a bipartisan basis to advance the STATES Act, a proposal that would at a minimum safeguard the ability of states, territories, and Tribal Nations, to make their own marijuana policies,” she wrote.
.@RepDebHaaland & I invite feedback about this proposal & look forward to working closely with tribal nations & citizens, experts, & other stakeholders to advance legislation in Congress that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples. https://t.co/qc1fkBGb3I
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 16, 2019
A separate press release on Warren’s Senate website also touts her support for the STATES Act, saying she “worked hard to ensure” that it included tribal protections.
“It’s beyond time to make good on America’s responsibilities to Native peoples, and that is why I’m working with Congresswoman Haaland to draft legislation that will ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and will empower tribal governments to address the needs of their citizens,” Warren said of the overall tribal plan. “We look forward to working closely with tribal nations to advance legislation that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples.”
In an email blast to her campaign list, Warren included “a set of additional ideas to uphold the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations with Tribal Nations and to empower Native communities,” which includes her marijuana proposal:
“New economic opportunities: We also need to respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new economic opportunities. For example, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity. I support full marijuana legalization and have advanced the STATES Act, a proposal that would safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”
There’s increased interest in ensuring that Native populations receive the same benefits and protections as states as it concerns cannabis legislation.
In June, the House passed a spending bill that included a rider stipulating that Native American marijuana programs couldn’t be infringed upon by the Justice Department. And a GOP representative filed a bill in March that would provide similar protections.
FBI Seeks Tips On Marijuana Industry Corruption
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is actively seeking tips on public corruption related to the marijuana industry, it announced on Thursday.
“States require licenses to grow and sell the drug—opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses,” FBI Public Affairs Specialist Mollie Halpern said on a short podcast the bureau released. “The corruption is more prevalent in western states where the licensing is decentralized—meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)