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May 28, 2019- City of Portland Responds to Dept. of Homeland Security

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The Mayor and all four commissioners of the City of Portland, Oregon recently responded to a Policy Alert from the Department of Homeland Security that could negatively affect the immigration status of those working in the legal and regulated cannabis industry.

The Cannabis Program strongly supports Portland City Council in rejecting this harmful and asinine Federal policy guidance. We need to do everything we can to call out injustice in cannabis policies and enforcement at every level.

This Policy Alert is a clear step backwards toward the same racist and counter-productive thinking that led to the harassment and jailing of vulnerable communities, and particularly communities of color, when cannabis was not legal.

For a link to the signed letter in response to the Policy Alert, please click here:

The full text of the letter in response to the Policy Alert is below.

May 16, 2018

The Honorable Director L. Francis Cissna

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Office of the Director

MS 2000

Washington, DC 20529-2000

RE: April 19, 2019 Policy Guidance - Controlled Substance-Related Activity and Good Moral Character Determinations

Director Cissna:

As the Portland City Council, we are alarmed at the policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual your office issued on April 19, 2019, “Controlled Substance-Related Activity and Good Moral Character Determinations.”

We reject the premise that law-abiding business owners and community members deserve to be targeted by this guidance. This action is irrelevant and detrimental to creating a safe, predictable, free market.

The policy guidance states, “…violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing GMC [good moral character], for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.”

It is outrageous to assert that a person following state law would not demonstrate good moral character.

The State of Oregon and the City of Portland have enacted laws governing cannabis businesses that are explicitly designed to encourage participation in a legal, regulated cannabis marketplace. These laws ensure that the product is tracked, well-managed, and safe to be used.

The legal cannabis industry must follow all the same rules that other businesses do to operate. More to the point, Extract Processors are required by City code to have all final commercial building permits, mechanical permits, and other trade permits before getting a license from Portland’s Cannabis Program, and are required by state law and rule to meet a similar standard. Portland City Code goes a little beyond State requirements for other kinds of Processors and for Producers, who must have at least an issued commercial building permit to obtain a Cannabis Program license.

Oregon’s legal cannabis business community is subject to laws and policies including, but not limited to:

  • International Fire Code
  • Product testing for consumer safety through the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program
  • Oregon Structural Specialty Code
  • Compliance with the Oregon Department of Revenue
  • Regulation by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission
  • Meet State requirements to make products less appealing and less accessible to children

The City does not believe that participation in the free market should be discouraged because of one’s race, culture, gender identity, or immigration status. This is why we strongly support a diverse, multicultural legal cannabis marketplace.

The outcomes of cannabis prohibition – and yes, even current cannabis regulations – are not equitable. Historic enforcement and prosecution of drug-related crimes disproportionately affected communities of color, and there are State restrictions on getting licensed if you have certain convictions, increasing the hurdle to licensure for communities of color. One estimation showed that less than 1% of cannabis retail businesses are currently owned by African Americans.

The City’s Cannabis Program is taking action to address these inequities, including:

  • Establishing a Social Equity Program in the Cannabis Program to reduce fees for businesses whose staff or owners have a cannabis conviction, and for businesses who contract with those on the Oregon’s Minority-Owned, Women-Owned, and Emerging Small Business list
  • Convening Portland’s cannabis policy public advisory body this year with an explicit focus to recommend how Portland can support equitable policies and outcomes
  • Managing of $490,000 in Social Equity Grants funded by a portion of Portland’s local tax on retail cannabis sales
  • Advocating for changes in state law to create legal, safe spaces for adults to consume cannabis, which would make it less likely for racial minorities to be targeted by current restrictions on cannabis consumption in public

What Portland needs is a Federal partner in these efforts. Instead, your office’s policy guidance is racist in both intent and outcome and makes our work toward an equitable business community more difficult.

Finally, any policy guidance that threatens one’s immigration or citizenship status for following state and local law is not only immoral, it’s counter-productive. By issuing this policy guidance, individuals will be forced to participate in the same unlawful, untracked cannabis marketplace that Oregon’s and Portland’s laws were meant to bring into regulation.

We ask that you rescind this guidance.


Ted Wheeler, Mayor

Amanda Fritz, Commissioner

Nick Fish, Commissioner

Jo Ann Hardesty, Commissioner

Chloe Eudaly, Commissioner