It is no secret that sale, possession and consumption of marijuana in the U.S. is a lot more complicated than Canada’s. With states allowed to exercise autonomy over their laws – almost to the point of being their own countries – their decisions to legalize cannabis for recreational and/or medical use puts them at odds with the federal government.
While recent proposed and implemented changes help protect these states and normalize the cannabis industry, U.S. News demonstrates this still has not stopped the federal government from continuing its witch-hunt.
If this were an old law, we could at least dismiss it as a relic of a different time. However, this law was only recently implemented. Not only is it absurd, but it is reflective of the early days of prohibition.
“Good Moral Character”
Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this immigration policy is the wording of the law. According to U.S. News:
“Immigration officials say buying or selling marijuana, even at a state-regulated cannabis shop, shows a lack of ‘good moral character’ and could derail one’s hope of becoming an American citizen”.
The law also does not make exceptions for medical users, many of whom rely heavily on the drug to live a manageable life.
Lawyers in Anchorage, Alaska were quick to criticize this policy, which was enacted on April 19th. Attorney William Brattain aptly describes the rule as “fairly ridiculous”.
The requirements for citizenship are vast and complex. In the sea of tests, vetting and bureaucracy, adding “good moral character” to the list of requirements sounds forced.
But it also reflects an earlier time. Whether or not immigration officials intend to discriminate against aspiring immigrants, this policy is still discriminatory.
When the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, it ran on the narrative that cannabis was a drug used heavily among minorities, such as Hispanics and African Americans. It gave law enforcement probable cause to stop and search migrants passing through the U.S. or seeking citizenship.
Today, this behaviour would be seen as profiling. But, like in 1937, the recent policy change discriminates against individuals from other countries – albeit in a less overt fashion.
William Brattain already saw the effects firsthand, according to U.S. News:
“Brattain says one of his clients admitted to smoking two joints as a teenager in Mexico. Brattain says the authorities are using it to say she lacks good moral character”.
If Immigration is going to say that two joints as a teenager indicates a lack of “good moral character”, then a sizeable portion of American-born citizens also would not pass this arbitrary and regressive test.
Based on Federal Law
Understandably, the government is not eager to try and defend a stance this is virtually indefensible. U.S. News explains:
“A spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declined an interview request but sent a statement saying the agency has to decide cases based on federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal”.
This is understandable if the applicant has a history of selling cannabis illegally or perhaps even being a chronic user who possesses large amounts of the drug. But occasional use hardly poses a threat to the public, nor does it put a strain on the legal system (unless authorities go out of their way to prosecute petty crimes like this one).
Contradiction to Policy
Aside from the fact that this law is poorly-worded and even more poorly thought-out, it actually directly contradicts with Chapter 5 – Conditional Bars for Acts in a Statutory Period of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Manual.
The manual addresses different offenses that could eliminate eligibility, including cannabis. However, it is a far cry from smoking marijuana as a teenager. The manual says that there is grounds for denial with:
“Violation of any law on controlled substances, except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana”.
Essentially, this April 19th policy says that even using cannabis disqualifies individuals, yet their own established policies say something different.
If this remains the case, attorneys will not have a difficult time challenging the department’s utter hypocrisy.
WeedAdvisor’s Dedication to Cannabis Reform
Stories like these are rather disappointing. Despite the immense progress we made, the stigma around cannabis continues to remain strong. Consequently, regressive policies are still a common occurrence.
While WeedAdvisor cannot control the legal decisions of any country, we can continue to advocate against such measures. To that end, we will continue to follow issues like these and offer criticism when warranted.
If we do not point out and admonish such changes, governments will be able to continue implementing anti-cannabis measures without opposition or debate.