Many in the United States are upset over the lack of federal Cannabis legalization, years after states began with California's Proposition 215 in 1996. Others want their criminal convictions expunged and everyone incarcerated over Cannabis to be set free. In the fight for this, the prisoners of the 420 War that are no longer in America are often forgotten.
Let's look at the case of a New Yorker expelled from the U.S. merely for having Cannabis in his possession.
After a lengthy process to become a U.S. Citizen and then being deported, the plant we all love and his having it in his possession was to blame. He didn't have CBGa Crumble in his possession; he had some weed; either way, he would have faced the same consequences as the U.S. Cannabis Market is still operational in an odd way with the plant being a Schedule One substance on the Federal level.
Leonel Pinilla, a New York resident, and father of two, is currently stuck in Panama following his deportation based on minor marijuana charges, despite New York state subsequently legalizing recreational cannabis use and retroactively clearing his record in the process.
Pinilla was booted from the nation in 2012 following a traffic stop that led to an encounter with law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.). The interaction led to his deportation proceedings based on a series of minor marijuana possession charges dating back to 2005 and 2008.
So many people have become involved in the movement for social equity in the Cannabis Community and industry and fair treatment of people working there. Yet, more than anything, people in the weed scene have for quite some time been treated lesser than those who sit in bars getting drunk, only to hit the highways to wreak havoc on innocent people driving to their homes or other destinations.
According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse Immigration, between 2003 and 2020, over 1,300 New Yorkers whose most serious offenses were marijuana possession or sale received deportation orders.
The National Immigrant Justice Center has reported that since Pinilla's deportation, his family has grappled with potential eviction and food scarcity without their primary income provider.
In an interview featured on the National Immigrant Justice Center's website, Pinilla expressed his distress over the separation from his family. He said, "There is no equivalent to being with your family. The separation is deeply traumatic. My deepest wish is to be with my daughters, my family, and my grandchildren, who only know me via phone calls. I yearn for the chance to return and live a life with my family and to support them. Without that, my life is incomplete."
In 2022, New York enacted new cannabis laws under which Pinilla's previous convictions were nullified - meaning his crimes of carrying a plant became vacated and erased. However, he's still stuck in Panama, and many believe it's only due to the color of his skin.
Attorney Jill Applegate, from the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, who advocates for Pinilla, noted in a recent New York Times op-ed that the legislation was intended to address the state's "racially disparate" enforcement of marijuana offenses. However, she stated, "For many immigrants who received deportation orders due to their marijuana convictions, the benefits of these new laws have not yet been actualized."
Despite state-level legalization, marijuana remains a federally controlled substance that can trigger deportation proceedings. Re-entering the United States based on expunged past offenses can involve years of complex legal processes to acquire the necessary travel documents.
From the Immigrant Defense Project, Marie Mark explained the complex interplay between expungement and immigration law to City Limits in 2021, the year New York legalized recreational marijuana.
She stated, "Immigration law has its own definition of conviction and has its own requirements about when a conviction can be erased — we call it vacated."
According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse Immigration, between 2003 and 2020, over 1,300 New Yorkers whose most serious offenses were marijuana possession or sale received deportation orders - and are also back in the nation that they left to gain Freedom.
But How can this happen?
There are three main ways substance use, including alcohol and drugs, can affect your immigration status: substance abuse issues, criminal convictions, and being associated with illegal activity.
Substance Abuse Issues
According to U.S. law (8 U.S.C. 1182), an individual determined to have a physical or mental disorder that threatens their safety or the safety of others or who is identified as a drug abuser or addict is considered inadmissible and cannot obtain a green card or enter the U.S.
Individuals already in the U.S. can be deported if found to be a drug abuser or addict, according to 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(ii). Evidence of drug addiction can come from various sources, including social media posts or admissions made through drug
Under some circumstances, you don't need a conviction or even need to admit to a crime to be considered objectionable. Immigration law harshly penalizes those associated with drug trafficking activities or financial gains from these activities. According to 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(C), if a consular officer or the Attorney General has reason to believe an individual is involved or connected with illicit drug activity, they are inadmissible. This applies even if the evidence is from a dismissed or withdrawn criminal case or if the person was found not guilty.
Federal Prohibition of Cannabis was once an unjust law; in 2023, it is absurd that a nation has failed to recognize decades of achievements by millions of people relying on Plant Medicines. I believe this man should be reinstated as a U.S. citizen, given a financial settlement and a written apology by whoever graces the White House next - as it will probably take that long to end this crazed wait to have Cannabis removed from Schedule One.
There is no reason to kick people out of the United States over using Cannabis when our nation has been willing to trade international killers to the U.S. in the Past for the Freedom of one well-known individual.
America is supposed to be about equality, Freedom, and being able to 'live the dream.' For most of us that use Cannabis, whether CBGa or THC, we're still in a nightmare in which our nation has delayed removing it from a list of drugs with no medicinal value.
So Far, the current presidential promise to free all prisoners seems pretty weak; it has not led to the de-scheduling of Cannabis - but we can only hope in the campaign season, pressure puts the politicians in place to end this madness. The war on drugs, as we all know, has been a farce that cost everyone in the US funds to send him back to Panama - over a bag of weed.