Labor & Employment Law Daily Bill would clear barrier to naturalization for employees in state-legal cannabis industry
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Monday, December 30, 2019

Bill would clear barrier to naturalization for employees in state-legal cannabis industry

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The measure would permit applicants who comply with state cannabis laws to demonstrate good moral character and become U.S. citizens.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) on December 19 unveiled bipartisan legislation that would remove participation in the state-legal cannabis industry from the list of activities that automatically bar naturalization. The legislation would counteract policy manual guidance issued in April by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Good moral character. Under the USCIS guidance, because cannabis is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, an applicant who is employed in the state-legal cannabis industry cannot establish good moral character—even if the applicant has not been convicted of an offense and has always acted in compliance with state law, the lawmakers noted.

The bill would amend immigration law to remove this barrier by allowing applicants who comply with state cannabis laws to demonstrate good moral character and become U.S. citizens.

“Under current law, individuals are deemed to lack ‘good moral character’ and denied American citizenship due to their work in the legal cannabis industry in states like Colorado and Massachusetts,” Senator Gardner said in a release. “This has to stop. Currently 95 percent of Americans are living in states with laws allowing some form of cannabis. The dramatically expanded cannabis industry presents real challenges for our nation, and I’m proud to be working with Senator Warren to address these issues.”

Other marijuana legislation. On April 4, 2019, Senator Warren also reintroduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act; S.1028) with Senator Gardner, a measure also unveiled in the House (H.R. 2093) on the same day. The bill would ensure that each state, as well as Washington D.C., U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribal nations, has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders. Neither bill has moved beyond committee assignment.

Both senators originally introduced the STATES Act in 2018 (S. 3032); it, too, failed to advance.

Senator Warren is also a cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.

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