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The Trump administration’s anti-immigration obsession has made its way to America’s legal marijuana industry. In what immigration and cannabis experts are calling the first instance of deportation fueled specifically by involvement in state-legal cannabis, Israeli national Shimon Abta has been made to leave the United States or face federal charges of trafficking illicit drugs.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Abta, an expert cannabis agronomist, came to the U.S. at the request of his employer, Israeli medical cannabis company Tikun Olam, to consult with cannabusinesses in Nevada’s legal cannabis industry. Israel has for years been a leader in cannabis research and development, and Abta’s unique skills were immediately welcomed in Las Vegas’ rapidly expanding medical cannabis program.
But after marrying an American woman, building a life, and dedicating his time to improving the lives of U.S. medical cannabis patients, Abta’s application for permanent residence was denied by U.S. immigration officials on January 8th of this year, at which point he was given two hours to either pack his bags and return to Israel, or face arrest for being a “trafficker of illicit drugs.”
Not keen on seeing the inside of federal prison, Abta immediately packed his bags and departed for Israel. On his way out of the country, border patrol agents added insult to injury, handcuffing Abta as he landed in San Francisco for a connecting flight, parading the cannabis researcher across the airport to his subsequent flight despite every indication that Abta was leaving the country on his own accord.
Exemplifying the Trump administration’s incredibly conservative approach to law and order, experts in both cannabis and immigration policy told JTA that this is the first time they’ve seen cannabis legalization and immigration tied together in such a manor.
“I haven’t heard of anyone being deported for that,” said Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of iCan: Israel-Cannabis, which promotes Israel’s cannabis industry internationally, to JTA.
Because he left the country so quickly, Abta avoided prosecution, but as the cannabis researcher fights to reunite with his wife in Vegas, where they purchased a five-bedroom home, the case has opened an entirely new can of worms for America’s already tenuous legal cannabis industry; an uncertainty that is not lost on Abta’s wife.
“If my husband is being labeled a drug trafficker because he had a marijuana staff card, then what is everyone in the state of Nevada?”
Abta’s wife has started a Change.org petition to bring attention to his case and lobby the federal government to reverse their decision. You can support their cause here.