Things That Matter

Recreational Marijuana Will Soon Be Legal In Illinois But Immigrants Are Being Warned To Keep Away From It

This summer, Illinois became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis use through a state legislator when the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act was passed by Governor J.B. Pritzker in May. However, not everyone will be able to benefit from the new law. Advocates are warning immigrants to stay away from consuming or working in the marijuana industry because of small legality that could reflect poorly on their cases.

While states have been legalizing marijuana, it is still illegal federally. An immigrant, undocumented or otherwise, can freely use the herb in Illinois, but should they own up to it, they would be admitting to breaking federal law. Illinois is the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana use and the new law will go into effect in January. 

Advocates want to protect immigrants from hurting their cases — as fair as the situation is.

Credit: Pixabay

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know about these consequences,” Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project told the Chicago Tribune. “Just admitting use makes you a potential target for deportation. So you don’t have to have a criminal arrest or conviction, you just have to admit to use.” 

Ruis-Velasco is also warning immigrants who live in mixed-status households to stay away from the industry altogether. Even if a citizen in the household works in the industry, it could reflect poorly on an undocumented family member. 

The issue is not specific to Illinois immigrants either, states, where cannabis is legal, have been affected tremendously by the incompatibilities between the state and federal laws, along with the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies. 

Immigrants around the country in states where marijuana is legal are seeing threats to their status.

Credit: Pixabay

“Even though the state legalizes it, under federal law, the immigration consequences of drug use (are) … extremely harsh,” Colorado attorney Aaron Hall said. “So we’ve seen people who purchase marijuana at the dispensary in good faith and later come back and it leads to the denial of permanent residency.”

Denver, Colorado mayor Michael Hancock even penned a letter pleading to U.S. Attorney General William Bar to ease the restrictions where state’s have legalized the substance.

“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,” Hancock wrote. “However, under current federal policy, lawful, permanent residents like Denver residents I have met with are being denied naturalization and may lose their legal status based on their lawful employment in the cannabis industry.”

ICE has remained strident about not making any concessions for immigrants caught in the unusual predicament. 

“ICE continues to pursue foreign-born nationals convicted of drug-related offenses by local and state law enforcement,” the agency told the Chicago Tribune

Kathleen Vannucci, an attorney who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she has already seen cases where immigrants were denied citizenship because they admitted to marijuana use or employment in the cannabis industry in states where it is legal. In Washington, immigrants have been denied on the basis that they have bad “moral character” which requires them to wait five years before applying for citizenship again. 

Some low-level cannabis workers can be accused of drug trafficking with the way the laws are written. ICE’s official marijuana policy, issued in April, makes its stance clear.

“The policy guidance also clarifies that an applicant (for citizenship) who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws,” the policy states. 

Advocates are trying to figure out the best course of action to protect immigrants, until then their advice is to stay away from the drug.

In April, when ICE’s marijuana policy was announced Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) began advising non-citizens to, “never leave the house carrying marijuana or paraphernalia, a medical marijuana card, or wearing clothing with marijuana imagery on it.” 

The organization also warned non-citizens to keep anything cannabis-related off of their phones and social media since those things might be monitored too. 

The legalization of marijuana is largely a way to resolve the criminal justice issues caused by the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. Moreover, nonwhites and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rates while the former group is incarcerated for the behavior far more frequently. Legalization’s new industry has also been shown to stimulate local economies by hundreds of millions of dollars. 

“I think that this is a complicated area of law as we have explained,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “I do think that there wasn’t enough information out there (when the legalization bill was being considered in Illinois). But we are trying to work with legislatures now and the government to try to make sure there is something that can be done to reduce the harm that will come.”

An Arizona Medical Marijuana Farm Turned The Sky Purple And People Were Left Wondering What Was Going On

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An Arizona Medical Marijuana Farm Turned The Sky Purple And People Were Left Wondering What Was Going On

Navajo County / Facebook

A Navajo County medical marijuana farm in Snowflake, Arizona filled the sky with a strange purple haze that illuminated the horizon. Local residents took photos of the electric violet fog that enveloped them on an early Friday morning last week. 

Copperstate Farms is the largest medical marijuana wholesaler in Arizona, according to CNN. The farm has 40 acres of greenhouses (totaling the size of 30 football fields). The greenhouses use red and blue lights at night to boost the plants’ growth. Anyone who paid attention during the color theory section of art class knows red and blue make purple, but the lights don’t look like this every day in Navajo County. 

So why was the sky filled with a purple haze?

❄ The snow wasn't the only gift the skies had in store for us this morning. 💜This photo taken from Snowflake, AZ early…

Posted by Navajo County on Friday, January 10, 2020

“The purple lights are always there but don’t usually light up the sky like this,” Cara Smith, who took the viral photo at 6:30 AM on her way to work, told CNN. “It had snowed that morning and was still very foggy and cloudy.”

While the lights can sometimes look a little purple from afar, the weather conditions magnified the violet hue. According to KTLA, water droplets from a particularly low fog reflected the growth lights which made the purple color spread across the dark sky. 

“The snow wasn’t the only gift the skies had in store for us this morning. This photo taken from Snowflake, AZ early this morning showcased purple glow for miles! Huge shout out to resident Cara Smith for sharing her photo.
The purple glow is a result of LED grow lights from nearby medical marijuana farm Copperstate Farms and the snow clouds overhead,” the official Navajo County Facebook page wrote. 

Copperstate Farms has been growing crops for three years with 70 cannabis strains in production and another 40 in development. 

With more states legalizing marijuana, a purple haze could be coming to you.

While Arizona legalized medical use in 2010, it has struggled to legalize it for recreational use. In fact, in 2016 a ballot initiative to legalize it recreationally failed with 48.7 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, in just four short years the state has a new initiative on the ballot that is facing little opposition. 

“With over $1.6 million in funding, the political action committee formed to push the ballot initiative is the best-funded PAC in the state, according to campaign finance filings. What is surprising is the seeming lack of any opposition in a state that, just four years ago, narrowly struck down a similar bill,” according to the Phoenix New Times.

In 2016, Arizona may have suffered from a 6.4 million anti-cannabis movement but there is little resistance this time. There have been changing attitudes around marijuana use with 33 states making it medically legal and 11 making it recreationally legal. 

Here are the states we can expect expanded access to marijuana use from in 2020.

According to Newsweek, over a dozen states are posturing towards ballot initiatives for recreational cannabis use in 2020. States like these include Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, South Dakota, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, and North Dakota and Rhode Island. 

States in the beginning process are working to garner local and public support, while others, further along, are figuring out implementation processes. For example, Minnesota Democrats are trying to establish the best practices before drafting the bill. 

“It just is manifestly unfair to say ‘Okay, well, now that we think [marijuana] is good and we’re going to make money, let’s make it a corporate, whites-dominated industry,'” Minnesota state house majority leader Ryan Winkler told Newsweek. “We may not be able to stop that, but we’re going to try.”

Marijuana legalization has largely become a criminal justice issue with Black and Brown people incarcerated at much higher rates for usage despite racial groups using cannabis at the same rates. 

Illinois may be the model to follow, after passing a bill to legalize recreational use, the state plans to expunge criminal records for related low-level offenses. It has allocated $30 million in special low-interest loans so that communities, largely of color, affected the most by the so-called War on Drugs can lead the way as cannabis entrepreneurs. 

Despite Trump’s False Claims, Facts Are Facts: More Than 99% Of Asylum Seekers Show Up To Their Court Dates

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Despite Trump’s False Claims, Facts Are Facts: More Than 99% Of Asylum Seekers Show Up To Their Court Dates

Jorge Benez-Ramon / Getty

One of the biggest myths that the Trump administration has perpetuated is that asylum seekers do not conform to the legal requirements and processes required to guarantee their cases are being heard in court. The Trump administration has claimed that the only way to guarantee that asylum seekers’ cases will reach the court is to keep them in detention centers (yes, you read that right).

This seems a bit counterintuitive: if they are seeking asylum it is because they have a cause they find justifiable for entering the United States undocumented in the first place. A recent study sheds light on the fallacy of “missed court appointments” and reveals that if not in detention, a vast majority (let’s just say the totality) of asylum seekers do show up for their hearings.  

Numeritos hablan: 99% of who were not detained or who were released from immigration custody show up to their hearings.

Credit: AZFamily / Instagram

New data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts) at Syracuse University reveals that most of asylum seekers who are not detained do attend their court hearings.

This finding basically trumps Trump’s assertion that they do not, which misrepresents them as individuals who prefer to live in the shadows and at the risk of being deported rather than doing due legal diligence. On average, migrants who are caught at the border or who hand themselves in have to wait for more than two years before their cases are dealt with in court.

But there are some others who have to wait even longer, as the TRAC report tells us: “Overall, asylum applicants waited on average 1,030 days – or nearly three years – for their cases to be decided. But many asylum applicants waited even longer: a quarter of applicants waited 1,421 days, or nearly four years, for their asylum decision.” Four years is a long, long time… wouldn’t anyone want the wait to be over?

Other previous research also disregards the idea that migrants want to live in the United States illegally rather than seeing their cases go through.

For those who have been lucky enough to never have to flee their home country or live in constant fear of being deported, it might feel like migrants would rather hide than face the law. This is also the driving rationale behind the Trump administration’s move to send asylum seekers to Mexico and wait there until their cases go through court. However, studies have shown that they want their migratory status to be cleared so they can go on with their lives, free of worries of being deported at any time. 

When in doubt, use science! 

As Vox reports, the numbers gathered by TRAC are pretty definitive: “The latest data from TRAC shows that nearly every migrant who applied for asylum and whose case was completed in 2019 showed up for all of their court hearings”. Boom! However, the Department of Justice has raised concerns about the accuracy of TRAC’s data analysis. TRAC does not disclose its methodology but uses information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

The Department of Justice claims numbers are much lower.

FILE PHOTO: Children walk inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Data from the Department of Justice contradicts the stunning 99% published by TRAC. According to 2018 numbers, the government says actually 75% of asylum seekers show up to their court hearings, a significant drop compared to TRAC’s analysis. And Trump’s numbers are even lower… yes, really.

He has said: “Tell me, what percentage of people come back? Would you say 100 percent? No, you’re a little off. Like, how about 2 percent? And those people, you almost don’t want, because they cannot be very smart… Those two percent are not going to make America great again, that I can tell you”. Wow, can you imagine a more deceitful way of framing reality?

TRAC’s report also reveals that more asylum seeker cases were decided in 2019 than in any other year… 46,735 people were denied asylum.

Yes, the courts are being busy. As the report reads, in 2019 “judges decided 67,406 asylum cases, nearly two-and-a-half times the number from five years ago when judges decided 19,779 asylum cases. The number of immigrants who have been granted asylum more than doubled from 9,684 in FY 2014 to 19,831 in FY 2019.”

But it is not all good news, as “the number of immigrants who have been denied asylum or other relief grew even faster from 9,716 immigrants to 46,735 over the same time period.” The three countries of origin that top the charts of successful asylum seekers are China, El Salvador and India.