California's Cannabis Regulations Are Putting Immigrants at Risk, Advocates Warn
A dozen politicians and immigrants' rights organizations sent letters to regulators, urging them to improve specific facets of the legal pot industry in order to protect immigrants from the feds.
Published on March 28, 2018

A group of immigrants' rights organizations has drafted letters to California cannabis regulators urging them to strengthen the state's cannabis tracking system in order to protect immigrants from federal authorities. Although the majority of U.S. states have legalized cannabis in some form, immigration and customs police follow federal law, which unwaveringly prohibits marijuana in any form.

Undocumented immigrants caught with even a tiny amount of pot can be deported from the country and barred from returning. For an individual who is applying to become a U.S. citizen, something so simple as having a job in the cannabis industry could be grounds for having that application denied. Earlier this year, immigration officials forced an Israeli cannabis consultant to pack his bags and leave the country immediately or face federal drug trafficking charges, even though he was not directly handling cannabis himself.

"In this environment, immigrants are under attack at every single level," Angie Junck, Supervising Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resources Center, said to the Desert Sun. Junck also warned that federal law enforcement authorities are "trying to get into and infiltrate state systems and state law enforcement."

In response to this growing concern, over a dozen politicians and immigrants' rights organizations sent letters to California cannabis regulators warning them that failing to control the black market in the state could draw unwelcome attention from federal law enforcement.

"California state agencies must adopt a strong track-and-trace program that will reduce illegal cannabis activities," the letters read. "Undocumented immigrants and permanent residents are in the middle of a disagreement between state and federal cannabis law that contradict each other. California having a strong track-and-trace system will decrease the likelihood of federal enforcement of federal cannabis laws."

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is currently using a process called "lot track and trace," which assigns an identification number to each group of 100 immature cannabis plants. The letters urge department officials to update this system to ensure that every single plant is tagged, arguing that the lot track and trace is an "unproven system" that might attract the unwelcome eye of the Department of Justice.

"We feel that there needs to be really, really strong [state] regulations," to ensure that federal law enforcement feels secure that California's cannabis industry is "under control," Christopher Sanchez, policy advocate with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, explained to the Desert Sun.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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