Bill Introduced in Congress to Remove Cannabis as a “Deportable Offense” for Immigrants

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On Wednesday, U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced legislation to remove cannabis use, possession, and distribution charges from the list of deportable offenses.

In concrete terms, the “Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act” would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by striking cannabis use, possession, and distribution as grounds for inadmissibility and removal.

Notably, if the bill is implemented, anyone who was previously denied a visa to enter the country “as a direct result of the alien’s use, possession, or distribution of marijuana may reapply for admission.” Also, any individual who was deported for those same reasons “shall be readmitted to the United States and re-issued the visa they had at the time of the alien’s deportation.”

In a statement announcing the measure, Luján cited a Human Rights Watch report, which indicates that more than 34,000 immigrants were deported between 2007 and 2012 for cannabis possession. The move, he added, is part of an effort to protect migrant communities, including undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children. 

“Since President Trump rescinded guidelines that listed misdemeanor offenders and cannabis convictions as ‘low priority’ in 2014,” Luján said, “the crisis has worsened. This anti-immigrant agenda from the Trump administration stands in contrast to the policies of dozens of states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.”

Luján’s bill has the potential to be far-reaching. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, even legal residents have been denied U.S. citizenship due to their ties to the licensed cannabis industry. Such was the case with two individuals in Colorado who, earlier this year, were deemed to be of “questionable moral character” due to their employment in the cannabis industry. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, in fact, penned a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr seeking “official guidance” on the matter. 

Last June, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a companion bill, which, like Luján’s, would make is so that the “possession of as little as 30 grams of marijuana” is no longer be grounds for deportation.

In support of Luján’s bill, Booker also supplied comments in the aforementioned statement, saying that: “This Administration’s efforts to use marijuana possession as a tool for deportation is misguided and does not make our communities safer. Limited law enforcement resources should not be wasted on deporting people for something two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing.” 

The “Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act” is co-sponsored by 21 Democratic Representatives from Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. 

The bill is also backed by a host of criminal justice, drug, and immigration policy reform groups, including: Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance, FWD.us, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the Washington Office on Latin America. 

Luján, who serves as Assistant Speaker of the House of Representatives, is also a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which would require resentencing and expungement of prior convictions for minor cannabis convictions and decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. He has also co-sponsored the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, which aims to enable those in the licensed cannabis industry to have access to banking services.

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