[Canniseur: ‘…good moral character determinations are based on discretion.’ Discretion being the mercy of the presiding judge. This is why judge appointments are so critical. Until cannabis is legal at the Federal level, this kind of BS will continue.]
While many Americans were planning their 420 festivities, last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a stern warning to anyone who hopes to be an American citizen in the future about being associated with marijuana.
The policy alert from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office was titled: “Controlled Substance-Related Activity and Good Moral Character Determinations.” The memo that followed stated that any violation of federal controlled substances laws, even for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing “good moral character.” This means that any foreign national who admits to or is caught smoking marijuana in the United States — even in a legal state or a medical state where their doctor has approved their use — will never again be able to establish they are a “good enough person” to become a citizen of the United States.
The memo went on to note on all the major changes that have happened in marijuana policy since California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, but reiterated that the federal government still considers cannabis to be a Schedule I drug.
Lorilei Williams is an immigration attorney and founder of Mariposa Quebrada, an organization that aims to support immigrants through art and activism. She said that she had a client who was a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and originally from West Africa. He had three cannabis offenses around simple possession for personal use, so when he tried to become a naturalized citizen, his application was denied on the grounds of those cannabis offenses.
“None were deemed crimes under [New York state’s penal law], but were classified as violations,” Williams said, adding that her client had paid the fines and done the community service that New York had required.
Not only was the naturalization application denied, Williams said, the federal government also moved forward with proceedings to deport her client because he was deemed deportable for drug offenses.
“We worked with a criminal defense attorney to get two of the three offenses vacated,” she said. Thanks to that effort, Williams said deportation proceedings were terminated and her client kept legal permanent resident status.
However, without the support of a dedicated legal team, most immigrants would not be able to contest the federal government’s push to use cannabis as an excuse to deport.
Memo: State-Legal Cannabis Employees Can Be Denied Citizenship Also
Beyond targeting those people caught possessing cannabis, the memo released on April 19 clarified that violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act, established by a conviction or admission, remain proof that a person does not have “good moral character” — even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.
The memo also provided a terrible angle for those in the legal cannabis industry to get stonewalled: “An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack [good moral character] if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.”
This could certainly prove a hindrance to any Canadian person who has been in the legal cannabis industry in their country and may want to move to the U.S. as the global market eventually opens up.
Alejandra Rosero is an immigration attorney in San Francisco and part of the legal team at Dolores Street Community Services, whose stated goal is to nurture individual wellness and cultivate collective power among low-income and immigrant communities.
Rosero said that the memo from the DHS is essentially a continuation of the status quo.
“The use of marijuana has always had negative immigration consequences, even if used for medicinal purposes, because it continues to be a ‘crime’ at the federal level,” said Rosero. “However, if legalized by state law, a [judge] may become more sympathetic when granting immigration petitions since good moral character determinations are based on discretion.”
TELL US, do you think smoking cannabis should disqualify you from becoming a citizen?
[Canniseur: Ridgeline Farms in Humboldt County is the kind of craft cannabis farm we want to thrive in the new world of legalized pot. Jason Gellman tends to the land with love and his winning plants shine.]
Ridgeline Farms has won some of the biggest awards in cannabis in recent years, all while working to stay afloat as they watch a sea of their small farmer peers fail to make the bar set by cannabis legalization in California.
Jason Gellman is a second generation Southern Humboldt cannabis farmer, hailing from lands known to produce some of the finest outdoor cannabis on the plant. He says the lands are a part of his blood and his way of life, which is why he says he hopes the culture of the hills will survive through this tumultuous period in California cannabis.
Gellman, who is the founder of Ridgeline Farms, recently took home that culture’s biggest prize. In December 2018, the farm won first prize in the full sun category of The Emerald Cup for their strain Green Lantern. For those uninitiated, the Emerald Cup is essentially the world championship of outdoor-grown pot — and winning in 2018 was a huge deal, since it was the first competition since California’s adult-use market officially opened on Jan. 1, 2018.
Following the Emerald Cup, on March 28, a limited line of Ridgeline Farms’ Green Lantern is now available (while supplies last) for purchase in a few select California dispensaries, through a partnership with Flow Kana.
Like many other growers, Gellman spent years working under the guidelines of California’s medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, as well as the guidelines that then-Attorney General Jerry Brown provided the California cannabis industry in 2008. But a new era began following the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized adult-use cannabis in California and ushered in the brand new world of permitting.
While the challenges of regulation proved too much for some, Ridgeline has survived so far. But Gellman admitted that it’s been an uphill battle.
“I don’t even know where to start. This has been a part of my life forever and it is for everyone else around here,” Gellman told Cannabis Now. “I’ve been working on the permitting for about three and a half years — and it’s been nothing but a struggle, to be honest.”
Surviving California’s Regulations, With a Little Help from the Emerald Cup
Gellman said at times it has been very difficult to come out from behind the curtain of the past. The first challenge was becoming a business, as Ridgeline Farms is a family-run and owned operation without the backing of any mega-investors. Gellman is still jumping through the hoops that followed in getting his permits with the county. He said he had to downsize from two properties due to the challenges he faced with regulations.
Prior to the Emerald Cup, Gellman said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do about staying in the cannabis industry or not. Farmers were finding various methods to get their legal product to the world, be it organizing amongst themselves or signing on with large distributors who have made their way through the hills. But even then, their cannabis wasn’t really getting out there.
“Everyone was struggling, nobody was moving product,” Gellman said. “There has to be money to make the wheel spin. We’re paying taxes from every end. To grow is super expensive.”
He noted that the kind of soil used to produce champions takes a lot of love — i.e., time and money — just like the plants do.
“Then, you add in the county fees and the state fees. So, we’re doing all that and then you grow all this product and suddenly there is nobody there to buy it,” Gellman said. “[Licensing] made a real roadblock for a lot of people.”
After winning the Emerald Cup, Gellman was finally pushing his product out to the masses.
“It’s funny because I’ve been growing Green Lantern for years, and nobody has ever wanted it,” Gellman said. “I mean, they like it, but our town has kind of been in the OG Kush or Sour Diesel generation for about 12 to 15 years.”
Green Lantern: The Award-Winning Strain
Gellman first got his hands on the Green Lantern strain from a good friend. He says back in the day there were barely any strains, and Green Lantern was one of the few on offer. “Not like nowadays where there are a million different crosses, there was just a couple,” he said. Gellman and all his buddy’s parents were growing seeded weed.
Gellman’s pal had some OG seeds from many years ago and was always doing crosses. On one of the pairings, he got a lone seed in a bag of some high-end full sun cannabis. He paired the OG-heavy strain with something a bit fruitier, eventually finding single bag seed. After more seeds were produced, Gellman weeded out his winning phenotype from between 50 and 100 plants. It was the combination of fruit and gas he was looking for.
“We stuck with that one and we’ve been growing it a while. Now I know people like it,” Gellman said. The Green Lantern has topped off at over 30 percent THC.
Gellman is proud of the hype being driven by Green Lantern, despite its old school roots.
“We didn’t send out genetics off, we didn’t test it, we didn’t know any of this stuff,” he said. “Everyone getting into it now is so scientific. Listen, I can tell you it will knock your butt on the floor. I can tell you it’s really strong and good. And that’s how we test it.”
Gellman admits the next generation of Green Lantern genetics he’s working on will have some lab work involved, as he hopes to get the genetics out to an even wider audience. He says what people notice about the strain — if they’re lucky to get some, because there isn’t that much out there — is it’s not a pungent smelling strain to grow. However, when you grow it to perfection and dry it to perfection, it smells great.
The batch that won the Emerald Cup was a random 20 plants they threw in late and let go the full light cycle and it came out amazing.
The Future of Ridgeline and Humboldt Cannabis
As for the future, Gellman said “we’re staying small.” Despite a flurry of folks that would love to financially back an Emerald Cup champion looking to scale up their operation, Gellman said he’s not interested. “I’ve been growing for my whole life, and so I’m kind of burnt out a little bit,” he said. Gellman said he wants to focus on doing the best he can at a smaller scale.
Gellman spoke of looking up at the ridgeline of King’s Peak, the namesake for the farm. “I just love my home. I love Southern Humboldt. I love this way of life. It’s a really great community — and 99 percent of the people grow weed, even if they say they don’t,” he said.
He also hopes the recognition he is receiving at the moment is passed on to the Garberville community that been such a major part of cannabis in America for decades with little to no props given.
“Everyone knows the Humboldt name, but we’re starting to get pushed out,” Gellman said.
“More than anything, I just really want people to know this recognition I’m getting, is because Southern Humboldt grows some of the best weed. I have so many friends and family members, you can’t beat it,” Gellman said.
[Canniseur: Grow season is here. Get fabulous basic grow tips for growing your favorite cannabis strain.]
For home cannabis growers, springtime means laying the groundwork — literally — for a successful harvest come fall.
It’s the end of March, and that means it’s prep time for marijuana home growers.
While cannabis is similar to plenty of other crops that home gardeners might be used to, given that the same key ingredients are soil and light, the cannabis plant still requires some unique expertise. Ahead of the 2019 planting season, Cannabis Now spoke with two experts to get their take on how home growers should prepare their gardens for a successful marijuana cultivation season.
The first expert is the legendary Ed Rosenthal. Rosenthal has spent decades educating people on marijuana cultivation, and he said that this year, he will be personally working with mostly older genetics this year. He expects the strains he’ll be working with will be a bit closer to landraces than some of the newer stuff out at the moment.
The second expert is Dark Heart Nursery founder Dan Grace. Grace’s catalog of genetics provides a big chunk of the clones that make their way to California home growers.
Both Grace and Rosenthal said that there are four main things that every cannabis cultivator should consider when setting up their home garden.
1) Building Healthy Soil
“Your garden’s success depends on the quality of your soil. Invest now to feed your soil,” Grace said. “Compost, Guano, worm castings — these are all great.” He added that you’ll want some nitrogen to get your plants off to a strong start, and some phosphorous and potassium to promote flowering later into the season.
“But one overlooked element is calcium,” Grace said. “Cannabis plants consume as much or more calcium as nitrogen! So bulk up.” He noted that oyster shell meal is a great organic supplement for calcium.
Beyond the compounds in the soil, the soil’s structure also matters. The experts recommend turning your soil over with a shovel while amending it with new nutrients in order to improve structure. With enough time, you can even plant a cover crop like clover, which naturally improves the quality of the soil. When it’s time to plant, you can till in the cover crop — and the decomposing vegetation helps build soil.
Rosenthal said that it is “ideal” for home cannabis growers to also have a vegetable garden. He says the similar soil preparation can save you time — and who doesn’t love fresh tomatoes?
2) Selecting the Proper Site
Rosenthal next stressed that home growers should make sure that they choose a spot that’s sunny in the fall, which is when the plants will be flowering — not just in the summer. “You get long shadows and blockages in the fall because the sun is at an acute angle,” Rosenthal said. He also noted if the grower feels another part of the yard is going to be sunnier in the fall, maybe they should plant the cannabis in movable containers.
“Cannabis thrives in the sunlight,” Grace said. “Even partial shade can cause cannabis plants to flower early, especially if they’re planted early in the season.”
Grace also mentioned that if you’re not sure how the sun travels across your garden, try Google Earth’s sun feature. “It’s a great way to see how sun exposure changes over the course of the year.”
3) Thinking About Appropriate Plant Size
If privacy isn’t a concern and you want to go as massive as possible in your home garden, you need to start the vegetative process inside, Rosenthal said.
“People who grow these big plants outdoors, in general, they start them indoors and they’re already three to five feet high when they plant them outside,” Rosenthal said. This saves the plant an extra two months of vegetative growth.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if privacy is a concern over size, you can just plant a bit later in the season as to not worry about height. Rosenthal says sometime around July 1st should do it.
4) Investing in Simplicity
Grace’s next tip for making life easier this summer is cheap automation.
“We all get busy, and a few missed waterings can really hurt your plant health,” Grace said. “Invest in the spring in a simple drip irrigation system on an automatic timer. This will save you when the summer heat comes around.”
Another time-saving idea for keeping a low-maintenance garden is to cover your soil with a layer of 1-ply cardboard and cover with 3 or more inches of mulch, making sure to leave a few inches between the mulch and the plant stems.
“The sheet-mulch will prevent weeds and retain water,” Grace said. “If you do this on top of a drip irrigation system, you’ll have a practically care-free garden.”
Grace’s final advice was to have fun.
“Don’t stress out about it too much,” he said. “Think about placing your plants someplace you’ll most enjoy them. If you’re concerned about visitors or the neighbors, hide them in the back. If you want to enjoy the aroma from the porch, put them in the porch.”
[Editor’s Note: If this were to pass, it would end cannabis prohibition and essentially make it legal, the same as alcohol. The states deal with alcohol how they choose based on the language of the 21st Amendment. Let’s see this happen.]
The Marijuana Justice Act is back. On Feb. 28, the bill’s authors reintroduced the bill, which made headlines last year for its plan to end cannabis prohibition federally and let states choose their own path for regulating the plant.
The previous congressional effort to pass the Marijuana Justice Act was led by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with California Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. Last year, the three were able to pull together solid support, with 43 cosponsors in the House and six in the Senate. Roughly 10 percent of Congress was on board last time around between the two houses.
As with its last iteration, the Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances List, where it currently sits among the most dangerous substances the U.S. is trying to keep under control and off the streets. Also, the bill would end federal crimes around the possession, cultivation, manufacture, import and export of cannabis and provide a pathway for expungement for people already charged.
The trio of the elected officials took to Facebook Thursday morning to make the announcement on the new bill. Khanna took the lead on the chat, giving his peers credit for leading the fight over the past few years.
“This is an issue about racial justice,” said Khanna. “Because the reality is many folks who come from more privileged backgrounds, if they try marijuana in high school or college their lives aren’t ruined.”
Khanna went on to note that, in less affluent communities, these rules simply don’t apply, especially in communities of color. Khanna said one of his favorite parts of the bill was added by Booker to expunge the records of those weighed down in life by the simplest personal possession offenses.
The bill pushes for a restorative justice approach to cannabis legalization, in an attempt to create a federal cannabis industry that can lift up the communities that have been pushed down by the War on Drugs. The bill would create a fund to push money into job training and social services for impacted communities.
The advocates at NORML celebrate their 50th birthday next year, after all that time, they say that the Marijuana Justice Act is exactly the kind of law they’ve been pushing for.
“The Marijuana Justice Act is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and to address the egregious harms that this policy has wrought on already marginalized communities,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a statement on the bill. “This robust legislation not only removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also provides a path forward for the individuals and communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association’s Executive Director Aaron Smith commented on those aspects of the legislation in a statement released not long after the bill was reintroduced.
“We cannot talk about making cannabis legal without considering how to undo the harms caused by years of prohibition,” said Smith.
“As more and more states move to regulate cannabis, it is completely unfair to continue saddling people with the lifelong negative effects that come with a criminal record, nor should a past arrest be a barrier to taking part in the burgeoning cannabis industry,” Smith said.
Smith said while much more work needs to be done at the state and federal level, “the Marijuana Justice Act sets an excellent example for others to follow, and will make it much easier for states to make necessary reforms to address this injustice and maximize the opportunities created by a legal cannabis market.”
[Editor’s Note: Contraband markets take a long time to dry up. Good legislation is needed to make it more profitable for the illegal growers to become legal growers. It’s that simple.]
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week he would be sending the state’s National Guard north to assist in the battle against unlicensed growers.
The move comes as Newsom begins his biggest skirmish with the Trump administration yet. On Monday, Newsom announced that he had signed a general order that rescinded his previous authorization for the National Guard to work at the California-Mexico border, a job typically reserved for federal personnel.
But the third mission Newsom said he would send the National Guard on is the one that raised the most eyebrows in cannabis circles.
“Another third will boost the National Guard’s statewide Counterdrug Task Force by redeploying up north to go after illegal cannabis farms, many of which are run by cartels,” Newsom said in the State of the State address on Feb. 12. He said these illegal cannabis farms “are devastating our pristine forests, and are increasingly becoming fire hazards themselves.”
His general order announcement the day before his State of the State address had only alluded to the fact 150 troops would be expanding the California National Guard’s statewide Counterdrug Task Force, but during the speech he let us know exactly what they would be up to. Newsom also plans on making the federal government pay for the 150 troops transitioning from the border.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Newsom noted the returns California has seen from the task force with limited federal funding. With only $27 million in funding during 2018, the task force was able to seize $2.2 billion in drugs. Since 2018, the task force has seized 71,488 pounds of marijuana.
During that same period, California’s National Guard seized 2,600 pounds of meth, 19 pounds of heroin and 47 pounds of cocaine. You could take everything the troops seized that wasn’t weed and fit it into one U-Haul truck for sure, so it’s a safe bet that any resources directed towards drug policing will mostly be targeting illegal marijuana.
The murkiest question that remains for California’s cannabis industry is what enforcement will look like going forward. The governor claims that the cartels are responsible for unlicensed marijuana production, but one would presume that their bottom line has been decimated just like the mom-and-pop growers of The Emerald Triangle since California’s legalization changed the dynamic of the state’s market. If the cartels don’t think it’s worth it anymore, who is left to go after?
The Balancing Act of Cannabis Enforcement
We reached out to the California Cannabis Industry Association to get their take on the new enforcement effort from Sacramento, and the balance between protecting their members’ interest and recriminalizing marijuana.
“Enforcement is a very nuanced concept,” CCIA Communication and Outreach Director Josh Drayton told Cannabis Now. “In no way shape or form do we want to support any enforcement program that mirrors the failed War on Drugs that targeted and prosecuted black and brown members of our communities… nor do we want to enforce on operators that are trying to come into compliance and are working to have a place in the regulated market. With that being said, we have to address the operators that have no intention of becoming regulated and choose to operate illegally.”
Drayton lived in Humboldt for over a decade, and during that time he says he saw the good and the bad of the industry.
On the good side, Drayton cites “mom-and-pop back-to-land growers who respect the treatment of their land,” in contrast with the “large scale cultivators that clear cut mountain tops, divert[ing] water from the rivers during droughts and dump[ing] toxins and pesticides in the rivers, killing fish and wildlife.”
He also noted as much as the concept of cannabis cartels may seem far-fetched, the state of California has a long history of large-scale cartel grows on public lands and throughout our national forests.
“California has a legacy cannabis industry that goes back decades, and bringing a pre-existing industry into the regulated market will be a long process,” said Drayton. “Many cannabis operators continue to face barriers to entry into this regulated market, and we must work with local municipalities to begin regulating operators, incentivizing operators to come above ground, and then equitably enforce upon those that have no intention of doing so.”
The folks at NORML also noted just because there is some form of enforcement, that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the progress of legalization in the shredder.
“There is not necessarily an inherent contradiction between supporting legalization, while allowing for some enforcement action against illegal large-scale growing operations, assuming those being targeted are truly tied to cartels or other criminal elements and not just small personal cultivators,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now.
Altieri believes this will probably do little to address the problem.
“California has been exporting marijuana to other states for as long as marijuana consumption has been around in the United States and as long it remains federally prohibited and illegal in many states, the demand for this type of exportation will likely continue,” Altieri said. “To truly address the issue of black market cannabis operations, Congress must act to end federal marijuana prohibition once and for all and the remaining states with policies of criminalization must move towards legalization and regulation.”