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Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are seen in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 24, 2021.

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are seen in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 24, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Omar, AOC Lead Letter Urging Biden to Extend Marijuana Pardons to Immigrants

"Granting pardons to all simple marijuana possession offenses—regardless of immigration status—demonstrates genuine compassion," 17 House Democrats wrote in a letter to the White House.

Kenny Stancil

More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden Tuesday urging him to pardon all simple marijuana possession offenses—regardless of immigration status—and to prioritize decriminalizing marijuana and reopening the immigration cases of people deported for possession of the drug.

Last month, Biden issued a "full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents" convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law. The move affected more than 6,500 people, but noncitizen immigrants were excluded from relief and remain vulnerable to deportation for the same offense.

Led by Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), and Jesús "Chuy" García (Ill.), 17 House Democrats on Tuesday commended the Biden administration for its "decision to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and to review how marijuana is classified in the United States," calling it "an essential step for our country's promise of justice for all."

"However," they wrote, "continuing to deport immigrants for simple marijuana possession will only exacerbate racial disparities, traumatize families and communities vital to this country's fabric, and create ineffective legal regimes at taxpayers' expense."

The letter continues:

This is especially true given the racial disparities that exist for Black migrants. Not only are black individuals four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, but a 2021 study found that Black immigrants in ICE detention were also more likely to be detained and up to six times as likely to be placed in solitary confinement.

Since becoming a crime in the 1970s, marijuana possession has upended too many lives, families, and communities for conduct many states no longer prohibit. Even in states that have legalized medicinal marijuana, non-citizens cannot receive medicinal marijuana without facing potential deportation. A study conducted by Syracuse University found that, between 2003 and 2018, over 45,000 people were deported nationwide for simple marijuana possession.

"After decades of the failed war on drugs and the countless lives and families it ruined, our country must begin repairing those harms," states the letter, which was signed by Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), among others.

"Granting pardons to all simple marijuana possession offenses—regardless of immigration status—demonstrates genuine compassion while ensuring that our country continues to mitigate the inhumane and ineffective drug policies that have ravaged communities of color for so long," the lawmakers wrote.

Nevertheless, "for immigrants whose lives have been upended for simple marijuana possession, a pardon is only the first step in allowing them to rebuild their lives," they told Biden. "That is why we also urge you to prioritize decriminalizing and descheduling marijuana and reopening the immigration cases of those who were deported for marijuana-related offenses."

"These actions would restore the lives and dignity of thousands of migrants who were deported for conduct that is now legal in varying capacities across 41 states," added the members of Congress. "Additionally, following these actions would allow those same people to return to their families and lives in the United States."

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