Congressional Democrats have proposed an amnesty for immigrants with a history of marijuana use, saying those records should not be used to prevent them from gaining a more permanent legal status.
The proposal was tucked inside House Democrats’ 2023 spending plan for homeland security programs.
The language would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from using immigrants’ history of personal marijuana use, including criminal conviction, against them if they are applying for admission to the U.S., or for an immigration benefit such as a green card or citizenship.
The Democratic proposal comes as most states have legalized marijuana use in at least some forms, including many that have legalized it for recreational use. But marijuana possession remains prohibited under federal law.
That creates a situation where someone living as a legal permanent resident in a state where marijuana is legal and who has used it could still have their application for citizenship denied.
The spending proposal is at the early stages of the legislative process. The bill will see initial action in a subcommittee later this week, but still needs to clear the full committee and the full House, then be squared with an as-yet-unwritten Senate version.
House Democrats tried something similar last year, getting the bill through their chamber. But it was quickly killed when House and Senate negotiators sat down to write a final bill.
Morgan Fox, political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said he’s hopeful the language stays in this time.
“It’s definitely great to see this is potentially being included again,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to see a lot of cannabis-related reforms being included or amended in the appropriations language.”
Mr. Fox said the conflict between state and federal law has become “completely untenable.”
“Even the simple admission of past cannabis use can be used as a way to deny people citizenship despite being perfect candidates in any other capacity,” he said.
He said there are also cases of Canadians involved with their country’s legal cannabis industry being denied entry to the U.S. because of their work history. He said it’s not clear whether the language Democrats are proposing would solve that situation.
The marijuana provision is a small part of the $85.7 billion bill, which funds Homeland Security’s sprawling mission covering everything from airport security and presidential protection to the Coast Guard and immigration enforcement.
Democrats are calling for increases in funding for both border and interior immigration enforcement agencies, but want to pump the money into better protection for migrants.
Actual enforcement would be trimmed, with detention bed space cut from about 34,000 beds to just 25,000.
Democrats also proposed derailing future border wall construction with $2 billion in money left over from the Trump administration. Under the new bill, that money could be spent on roads, technology and environmental mitigation rather than on the barrier President Trump envisioned.