AP NEWS

Trump admin. tested over ‘fatally flawed’ immigration policy as marijuana workers risk deportation

May 3, 2019

Democrats representing Colorado in Congress have complained to the Trump administration about a new policy affecting immigrants employed in the state’s legal marijuana industry.

“We respectfully disagree with the recent guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) formalizing a bar to naturalization for legal permanent residents who have been employed in the legal cannabis industry, in accordance with Colorado law, and wish to see rescission of this policy and and the very minimum clarification on the process as it stands,” four members of the state’s congressional delegation wrote in a letter Thursday.

Addressed to the heads of DHS and the Department of Justice, the letter was sent in response to The Denver Post reporting last month about two lawful permanent U.S. residents one from Lithuania and another from El Salvador facing scrutiny from immigration officials for professionally growing and selling marijuana, respectively.

“This employment history led the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers who conducted their interviews to deny their citizenship applications, citing their alleged failure to exhibit ‘good moral character,’ which related only to their work in the industry,” the letter said.

“In addition to denying their citizenship, USCIS compelled both these Coloradans to sign affidavits in which they confirmed their employment in the cannabis industry, subjecting them to potential federal prosecution and possible deportation on that basis,” wrote Democratic Reps. Joe Neguse, Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette and Jason Crow.

Calling it “fatally flawed,” they claimed there is “no cogent basis for the agency’s apparent conclusions that lawful employment in a state-licensed industry could be treated as a negative factor in establishing good moral character and places a negative burden upon the individuals against a non-existent discretionary element.”

Neither DHS nor the Justice Department immediately returned requests for comment.

Marijuana is illegal under U.S. law on account of being considered a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Most states have legalized marijuana to varying degrees, however, flying in the face of prohibition and effectively putting their laws in direct conflict with the federal government’s.

The Justice Department previously advised federal prosecutors against targeting individuals who defy federal marijuana prohibition while acting in compliance with state law, but that policy, known as the “Cole Memo,” was rescinded by President Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in early 2018. His successor, Attorney General William Barr, has since vowed to “not upset settled expectations and reliant interests” that have arisen as a result of the memo.

Several laws pending on Capitol Hill would reschedule or remove marijuana from the CSA if passed, while an effort previously endorsed by the president would leave it on the controlled substances list but create an exemption to let states legalize it without fear of repercussions.

Coloradans voted in 2000 and 2012 to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, respectively, and in 2014 the state became the first in the country to let adults purchase retail pot from licensed shops.

Five years since opening the nation’s premier commercial dispensaries, Colorado state officials reported in February that the pot shops sold more than $6 billion in combined medical and recreational sales during that span.

“Since 2014, the cannabis industry has been an important part of Colorado’s economy,” said Mr. Crow, an Iraq War veteran elected in 2018. “The administration’s policy makes it harder for lawful permanent residents to do their jobs, contribute to our economy and pursue citizenship with certainty. The administration is also failing to respect states’ rights as it continues to pursue dangerous and counterproductive immigration policies.”

Thirty-three states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, including Colorado and nine others that have gone further by legalizing pot for recreational purposes. The Rocky Mountain State is among only seven where retail dispensaries are allowed to operate, however, placing it alongside Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.