The Trump administration is seeking to make certain marijuana offenses, including misdemeanor possession, grounds to deny asylum to migrants.
In a notice published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security proposed amending asylum policy to make it so that people convicted of various misdemeanor and felony offenses are ineligible for protection in the U.S. That includes possessing and trafficking cannabis, with one exception.
Under the proposal, “[p]ossession or trafficking of a controlled substance or controlled-substance paraphernalia, other than a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana,” would be added to the list of regulations rendering people seeking refuge in the U.S. ineligible for asylum.
The notice, signed by Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, emphasizes the role of drug trafficking in criminal organizations and stipulates that the agencies “propose to implement a new bar for asylum to include convictions for misdemeanors involving the trafficking or possession of controlled substances.”
“Both possessors and traffickers of controlled substances pose a direct threat to the public health and safety interests of the United States, and they should not be entitled to the benefit of asylum,” it argues. “The harmful effects of controlled substance offenses have been recognized consistently by policymakers and courts.”
Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno told Marijuana Moment that “in its zeal to further restrict the ability of refugees to obtain protection in the United States, the Trump administration is once again resorting to drug war tactics that stigmatize and punish people who have even the smallest form of contact with illegal drugs.”
“If the administration really wanted to further public health and security, it should roll back drug war policies that help to fuel the violence and corruption that drive so many people to the southern US border,” she said.
As pointed out by the agencies, the policy would be consistent with existing immigration rules. In April, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) clarified that cannabis consumption, or employment in a state-legal marijuana market, is evidence of poor “moral character” and can be used to justify a denial of a naturalization application.
USCIS similarly carved out an exception for “a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”
That move received significant pushback from reform advocates and lawmakers, who accused the Trump administration of weaponizing marijuana prohibition against immigrants.
A bipartisan coalition of 43 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department and Homeland Security in May, imploring the agencies to rescind the policy. The next month, 10 senators send a similar request.
There have been several legislative attempts to protect immigrants who participate in state-legal cannabis programs against being denied citizenship or deported, including bills filed by two Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
It’s not clear if those pieces of legislation would have an impact on federal policies for asylum seekers, however.
For now, the Trump administration is accepting public comments on the new asylum proposal through January 21.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
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.