How the Immigration Debate is Impacting Legal Cannabis

Some of the greatest business innovation in the history of the United States has come from the minds and hands of immigrants and the children of immigrants. We’re not talking about some upgrade to horse-drawn buggies 150 years ago… you need look no further than everyday household brands like Apple (Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant) or Google (co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow) to see what sort of impact immigration can have on a society.

Immigration is still a highly controversial topic for discussion even today with our country split on the idea of building a physical barrier along the southern border of the Land of the Free with the sole purpose of keeping undocumented immigrants out.

The fact of the matter is that there is no wall high enough or moat deep enough to keep determined people fueled by desperation from their goals and it is estimated that there are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today.

Despite what some hyperbolic newscasters or politicians might want you to believe, the vast majority of these undocumented immigrants are not out stalking white women as prey. The overwhelming majority of them are hard-working people focused on earning a living, obeying the law, and in many cases even paying taxes.

Such is the case for 30-year old El Salvador native Oswaldo Barrientos.

Having lived in the U.S. for 29 of his 30 years, Barrientos is pretty much as American as it gets, without the paperwork to back it up.

A resident of Denver, Colorado, Barrientos recently applied for U.S. citizenship but had his application swiftly denied. With no criminal record, a lifetime spent in America, and being gainfully employed, Barrientos was shocked to learn that the cause of his denial was his employment.

You see, Barrientos works in Colorado’s legal cannabis industry but with the plant still being a Schedule I narcotic at the federal level, his association with it soiled his hopes for citizenship.

He hired an attorney and his situation elicited a response from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that employed no nuance or need to read between the lines.

In summary, it states:

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and as a federal agency USCIS is required to adjudicate based upon federal law. Despite state laws that may allow medical marijuana use, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause empowers it to prohibit drug distribution and possession, even if the prohibited activities are not also illegal under state law. Further, Congress’ authority over immigration law and to prescribe inadmissibilities to the United States is absolute.

To summarize the summary: Fuck your state’s laws

Barrientos just wants to carry on with his life, but with the same benefits and civic responsibilities as his friends, co-workers, and neighbors. “Honestly I’ve felt like an American my whole life,” he says, “I don’t know any other life.”

While the Feds have not yet shown the desire to actively hunt down undocumented immigrants working in legal cannabis markets, they’ve got a perfectly baited trap waiting for any who happen to come their way simply looking for a better life.

Barrientos is not the first immigrant to see their naturalization request go up in smoke due to an association with legal weed, but Denver Mayor John Hancock has seen enough.

The embattled mayor sent a shot across Big Brother’s bow yesterday with a pointed letter to recently installed head of the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General Bill Barr. In the letter, Hancock addresses the top lawyer in the land, saying, “This week, I met with two legal immigrants – one from Lithuania, another from El Salvador – who have lived here for more than two decades. They have graduated from our schools. They have paid their taxes. They are working to achieve the American dream and complying with the processes in place to become a part of our great society, but were denied naturalization solely because of their cannabis industry employment.”


He concludes with the plea, “Denver believes hardworking and law-abiding immigrants should be allowed to participate in the legal cannabis industry without fear that such participation will disqualify them for lawful residency in the United States or prevent the opportunity to obtain permanent citizenship. We respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Justice uphold Colorado’s states’ rights by respecting our voters and providing guidance to all DOJ employees clearly indicating that legal immigrants shall not be penalized for working in the legitimate cannabis industry. By providing this guidance, the DOJ has the opportunity to correct this injustice and demonstrate a legitimate and sincere support for states’ rights.”

The letter is cosigned by both state senators as well as seven state representatives. Curiously absent from that list is Governor Jared Polis.

The invocation of states’ rights should tug at the ideological heartstrings of the conservative AG. After all, it was the Conservative that appointed him, President Donald Trump, who shortly after taking office in 2017 declared, “Make states the laboratories of democracy again.” Apparently those MSTLODA hats didn’t sell as well.

Now President Trump is flirting with the idea of closing our border with Mexico completely and indefinitely. While this will have near-zero impact on America’s domestically-fed cannabis industry, it is further evidence of where he and his party stand on immigration and it leaves little hope that Mayor Hancock’s letter will fall on anything other than deaf ears in the nation’s capital.

During his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, AG Barr was asked specifically and repeatedly about legal cannabis and states’ rights. At the time, he said what he needed to in order to silence his critics and get the job. Now it is time to see which direction his moral compass actually points.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” she wrote. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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