While the cannabis community is convinced that the Trump administration is pro-pot — you know, because the president said that one time almost a year ago that he would “probably” sign a marijuana legalization bill if one ever crossed his desk — some shady dealings are going down in legal marijuana states that might suggest otherwise.
Specifically, it appears that U.S. immigration officials are blocking citizenship applications for people currently working in the cannabis industry. Mr. Build-A-Wall and his cronies have apparently decided that, regardless of whether the marijuana market is legal in places like Colorado, immigrant workers opting for a job in this growing business sector should be disqualified from becoming legitimate members of the Melting Pot.
The American Dream, Denied
At least two people have been denied citizenship under these circumstances, according to a report from Colorado Public Radio.
One of them, a Denver man named Oswaldo Barrientos who lived in the U.S. since he was an infant, was recently denied citizenship because he collects a paycheck from a cannabis growing facility. It was a shock, the 30-year-old said, considering that he has been in the country basically all of his life: he graduated from an American high school, doesn’t have a criminal record and even pays his taxes – something our president has bragged about evading in the past.
Yet Barrientos, who has been working on a green card since his early teens, says it was his five-year working history in the cannabis trade that jammed him up at the immigration office.
During his-in-person interview in November of last year, Barrientos recalled that instead of focusing on his lengthy background as a productive member of society, the agent honed in on his employment a state-licensed pot business. A couple of weeks later, he learned that his application had been denied.
“I was shocked, appalled, sad,” he told CPR. “It was a mixture of emotions. I had no idea I was going to be in this situation.”
No one would have.
Ever since getting rid of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the Trump administration has been mostly quiet about marijuana. In fact, there have even been a couple of instances where it seemed the president was ready to offer his full support on the matter. During a conversation with Colorado Republican Cory Gardner, Trump allegedly admitted that Sessions’s marijuana views sounded “like something my grandpa said in the 1950s” and he even told the lawmaker that he “needs to be stopped.”
Sessions eventually resigned, and there really haven’t been any more anti-marijuana spiels coming from Washington ever since.
But make no mistake about it, Trump is a magician when it comes to using loopholes in the law to further his agenda, especially concerning his immigration plan. Since marijuana remains a banned substance in the eyes of the federal government, it provides him with an underhanded way to eliminate immigrants affiliated with this field from the equation.
“Despite state law that may allow medical marijuana use, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause empowers it to prohibit drug distribution and possession, even if the prohibited activities are not also illegal under state law,” said Deborah Cannon, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in an interview with CPR.
“When adjudicating applicants for citizenship, the agency is required to apply federal law,” she continued. “We appreciate the candor of applicants who provide the requisite documentation illustrating legal purchase and possession under state law. However, as a federal agency, we are legally unable to make special considerations in these cases unless or until federal law is changed.”
Federal Action Necessary
Although the immigration-marijuana association debacle doesn’t receive a lot of attention, it has become a real dilemma for immigrants. According to attorney Aaron Elinoff, who is representing Barrientos in his case, it might be better for immigrants working in the cannabis industry to hold off on the citizenship application. “We don’t know how many people have been denied on the same issue,” he told CPR.
But Colorado officials want some clarification. Last week, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr concerning the reefer roadblocks preventing quality people, like Barrientos, from becoming citizens. The mayor is asking the Justice Department to change its policy.
“We strongly believe that such guidance is imperative to ensuring consistent implementation and enforcement of state marijuana laws and regulations in the more than 30 U.S. states that have chosen to fully or partially legalize cannabis,” Hancock wrote. “Denver understands the need for federal laws and regulations regarding citizenship and immigration, but we are seeing the heartbreaking effects that those federal laws and regulations are having on our residents.”
It remains to be seen how this predicament will shake out. Considering Trump’s recent threat to close the border, issued in order to strongarm lawmakers into making stricter immigration laws, we’re not holding our breath that this is going to be easily remedied. It is possible, however, that Barr could establish some type of temporary guidance, like a document that says Barrientos and other immigrants in the legal cannabis industry are good to go as far as Uncle Sam is concerned. But the only way to ensure people are not disqualified from citizenship based on their association with cannabis is for Congress to step in a change the law.