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.”

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Kamala Harris Pledges That, If Elected, She and Joe Biden Would Decriminalize Marijuana Use

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Kamala Harris Pledges That, If Elected, She and Joe Biden Would Decriminalize Marijuana Use

On Monday, Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris vowed that a Biden-Harris administration would “decriminalize” the use of marijuana.

“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone,” Harris said during a Facebook Live virtual round-table.

“We need to deal with the system, and there needs to be significant change in the design of the system,” she continued.

The decriminalization of marijuana would be a boon for cannabis-rights activists who have long said that marijuana’s potential health risks “pale in comparison” to the harm that criminalization has done to communities of color in America.

We’ve known for a while that the U.S.’s drug policies disproportionately affect people of color. While the stats suggest that Americans across all demographics use marijuana at roughly the same rate, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested and charged for possession.

For example, in New York City in 2017, the NYPD arrested 17,000 people for marijuana-related offenses. 86% of those were Black or Latino.

via Getty Images

Historically, politicians on both the left and the right haven’t done much to fix this disparity. Although both Republicans and Democrats were responsible for the largely ineffective “War On Drugs” policies of the ’90s that left a large number of people of color incarcerated, the Dems have recently changed their tune.

In the ’90s, there was an erroneous belief that marijuana was a “gateway” drug to harder, more destructive drugs, like crack-cocaine. Cracking down on marijuana possession was seen as a preventative tactic to keep people from trying crack.

The decriminalization of marijuana would be a marked change for Biden in particular who has held quite stringent anti-marijuana positions throughout his career.

“The school of thought was that we had to do everything we could to dissuade the use of crack cocaine,” Biden said in 2008 Senate hearing. “And so I am part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then.”

This falls in line with what Senator Harris’s policy stances have been of late. She recently spear-headed a bill called the MORE Act that, if passed according to Politico, would “remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and erase some cannabis criminal records”.

It’s worth noting that there is a marked distinction between the decriminalization of marijuana vs its legalization.

via Getty Images

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, decriminalization means “no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption”. In essence, a marijuana-related offense would be treated similarly to a traffic violation.

Legalization, on the other hand, would mean a federal policy that “supports a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers can buy marijuana for personal use from a safe legal source.”

Whether it’s decriminalization or legalization, one thing’s for sure: the data shows that hyper-punitive laws towards cannabis possession has done the American people more harm than good. Especially in communities of color.

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Court Orders ICE To Release Children In Their Custody As COVID-19 Tears Through Detention Centers

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Court Orders ICE To Release Children In Their Custody As COVID-19 Tears Through Detention Centers

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COVID-19 is spiking across the U.S. with 32 states watching as new cases of the virus continue to climb day after day. California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida are among states that have set daily new infection records. With this backdrop, a federal judge has ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must release children, with their parents, by July 17.

A judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release children in detention by a certain date.

U.S. Judge Dolly Gee ordered ICE to act quickly in response to the rampant COVID-19 spread in detention centers to protect the health of migrants. Judge Gee is giving ICE until July 17 to comply and release all children that have been in the agency’s custody.

U.S. Judge Gee ruled that the threat of the pandemic is great where the children are being held.

“Given the severity of the outbreak in the counties in which FRCs are located and the Independent Monitor and Dr. Wise’s observations of non-compliance or spotty compliance with masking and social distancing rules, renewed and more vigorous efforts must be undertaken to transfer (children) residing at the FRCs to non-congregate settings,” Judge Gee wrote in her order.

Concerned politicians and public figures are celebrating the judge’s order.

The order is aimed specifically at the Family Residential Centers (FRCs) and Office of Refugee Resettlement camps across the country. The virus has been running rampant in detention centers and prisons and, according to the judge, unsurprisingly the virus has made it to the FRCs.

She continued: “The FRCs are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.”

National leaders are calling on ICE to follow the ruling by a federal judge.

The judge’s order is aimed at the three FRCs in the U.S. Two are in Texas and one is in Pennsylvania. Unaccompanied minors in various shelters are also included in the order.

“Although progress has been made, the Court is not surprised that [COVID-19] has arrived at both the [Family Residential Centers] and [Office of Refugee Resettlement] facilities, as health professionals have warned all along,” Judge Gee wrote.

This story is developing and we will update as new information arises.

READ: After COVID-19 Shut Down Flights, A Man Sailed Across The Atlantic Ocean All So That He Could See His Dad

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