Senator Kamala Harris, the favourite of the betting markets’ to become the Democractic presidential nominee in 2020, recently introduced the federal cannabis reform legalization into the Senate, showcasing that her approach towards drug policy has moved past laughing at the idea of cannabis decriminalization.
Retrospecting on her journey from being a top cop of California to one of the most outspoken hopefuls for 2020 on critical justice reform, Harris’s step towards cannabis legalization also suggests that she is delivering on the denunciation of harsh deportation policies- although she was complicit in their implementation as the district attorney of San Francisco.
Harris has active participated and sponsored a number of bills aiming at reuniting separated migrant families and holding border patrol officers accountable. She is also campaigning on the expansion and reinstatement of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Jerry Nadler (D-NY), a representative plans to introduce the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) to the House, which would remove cannabis from the list of Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I of controlled substances.
This bill, in effect, would recognize the medical purpose of cannabis while also allowing for its legalization. Additionally, the bill would also render direct funds to build programs that will assist with criminal record expungement and re-entry, along with the expansion of cannabis industry by promoting participation among people targeted by the drug war – above all low-income communities and people of colour.
Harris said as marijuana gains legality across the country, everyone should ensure that people, especially belonging from the communities of colour who have been disproportionately being impacted by the war on drugs- have an opportunity to take part in the growing cannabis industry. This also includes undocumented immigrants.
Currently, the status of immigration is jeopardized by working in the marijuana industry- right from cannabis dispensaries to farms- in states with a legal market.
A day before the marijuana holiday on April 20, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a policy guidance which stated that the “good moral character” needed for noncitizens’ naturalization is violated by “certain marijuana related activities,” including employment in the cannabis industry which occurs in jurisdictions, where the conduct is not treated as a violation of state law.
The guidance was released after 2 Coloradans were refused naturalization due to their participation in the cannabis industry of the state.
Kathy Brady, a senior staff attorney at the Immigration Legal Resource Center said everyone in the country who is engaging with marijuana or its related activities is committing a federal crime, irrespective of being a citizen or non citizen.
However, the House of Representatives has restricted the Department of Justice from prosecuting people (citizens) use of cannabis in legalized states. Whereas, the status for immigration remains unprotected and in a dark space given marijuana continues to be prohibited at the federal level,which arbitrates immigration.
Brady further explained saying that they were talking about people who were not thinking that they were committing a crime while engaging with the cannabis industry. She stated that supposedly, if you were a citizen, like you have a green card, or maybe you are undocumented, or you have a regugee status, and you reside in Califronia, a state where marijuana is completely legal, and if you were to tell an immigration officer that you were in anyway involved with marijuana or have even used it under the prescription of a doctor, the person can find you inadmissable, and that you can not be naturalized as a citizen. These people might even deport you back.
Harris ‘ bill would discuss the disadvantages of marijuana experienced by non-citizens. The text states that people who are noncitizens can not be refused for any protection or benefit under the immigration laws due to conduct, admission, addiction, finding or abuse, an arrest, or a conviction, a juvenile adjudication, relating to cannabis” – both after and before the potential passage of the Act.
Other Democratic candidates like Sen. Corey Booker and Sen. Bernie Sanders also proposed marijuana legalization bills. Sander’s 2015 bill was the first-ever bill to propose removing federal prohibition – which would allow noncitizens to safely participate in the cannabis industry. On the other hand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s States Act, would not do so, since it would fail to deschedule cannabis.
Making a unique position for itself, the bill supported by immigrant justice groups like Immigrant Legal Resource Center and UndocuBlack Network would allow 20% of revenue from a new 5% marijuana product tax towards the creation of programs which support small cannabis businesses owned by economically and socially disadvantaged individuals and reduce barriers to industry employment and cannabis licensing for those who are most impacted by the war of Drugs.