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Mayor, City Attorney urge Congress, other mayors to stop punishing legal immigrants over cannabis work

DENVER – Mayor Michael B. Hancock penned a letter today to other mayors urging them to stand up for legal immigrants who work in the cannabis industry, which is legal in more than 30 U.S. states.

“The Trump Administration today doubled down on its policy of punishing legal residents of the United States by denying them citizenship simply because they worked in the cannabis industry,” Mayor Hancock said Friday.  “At every turn, this administration is erecting barriers to legal paths to citizenship for our immigrant community.  We fundamentally disagree with today’s guidance from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  This is a matter or equity and social justice, and working in the legal cannabis industry does not mean someone is a bad person. Everyone should have a right to work in this burgeoning industry regardless of where they came from, what language they speak or the color of their skin.”

Mayor Hancock’s letter went to mayors who participate in the Government for Responsible U.S. Cannabis Policy Coalition. The Mayor formed the group last summer for cities and states to have a more unified voice in the face of a federal government hostile to the cannabis industry.

“Denver certainly understands the need for federal laws that regulate citizenship and immigration, but we also recognize that old federal laws need to change,” Mayor Hancock said in the letter.

Earlier this month, Mayor Hancock and City Attorney Kristin M. Bronson joined Excise and Licenses Director Ashley Kilroy in meeting two legal immigrants – one from Lithuania, the other from El Salvador – who’ve lived in the U.S. for nearly their entire lives and without any criminal history.  Immigration officials denied their requests for naturalization claiming they are not of “good moral character” under federal law because of their cannabis employment history.  Both now fear detention and deportation.

In the wake of that meeting, Hancock sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr asking for federal guidance that would clarify and adjust those guidelines.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in turn, stood firm Friday saying, “violations of the federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana are generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization, even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law.”

Mayor Hancock and Bronson previously instructed Denver city agencies to warn immigrants of the dangers of working in the cannabis industry.  The City is also working in conjunction with state agencies and the cannabis industry to spread the word.

“USCIS already recognizes exceptions to federal immigration laws for low-level marijuana possession and paraphernalia,” Bronson said. “Today, the agency had an opportunity to correct some of the wrongs of the failed drug war that has disproportionately harmed communities of color and they failed to do that.”

The following mayors received a copy of the letter Friday:

Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, CA
John D’Amico, Mayor of West Hollywood, CA
Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, OR
London Breed, Mayor of San Francisco
Heidi K. Williams, Mayor of Thornton, CO
Cassie Franklin, Mayor of Everett, WA
Jenny Durkan, Mayor of Seattle, WA