The impact of federal drug laws on an immigrant's life
A consensus has emerged that the U.S. "War on Drugs" has failed - especially in regards to the regulation of marijuana. Current laws continue to punish nonviolent marijuana users with harsh sentences, at times, more severe than those given for convictions of violent crimes.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which places it in the same category as Heroine, LSD, Ecstasy and other drugs considered to be the most dangerous by the federal government. To put this in perspective, cocaine is only classified as a Schedule II narcotic.
In 2013, over 690,000 persons were arrested for a marijuana law violation, 88% of whom were arrested for possession only. At the same time, 23 States + DC now allow for medical use of marijuana , while 4 States regulate and tax the herb for recreational use. 20 States have decriminalized marijuana for personal use; the federal government has not followed suit.
Based on recent polls by the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be illegal, with an 11 percent rise in those that support the legalization of marijuana between 2011 to 2013. Furthermore, 7 in 10 Americans believe marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and 49 percent of Americans, almost half, reported trying marijuana at some point.
But within the immigrant community, the consequences of a misstep are draconian! Consider the story of one Mexican immigrant (FN) who was brought to the United States as a child after escaping sexual abuse and rape at the hands of family members and neighbors in Mexico. He studies and works hard and his perseverance pays off: he graduates college, gets a job as a paralegal in a large firm, and after the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, he and his USC partner marry after 10 years together. They buy a home together and then start FN's immigration process. The immigrant petition and the provisional waiver are promptly approved and the Department of State schedules an appointment in Cuidad Juarez, MX for an immigrant visa interview.
Unfortunately, FN is subjected to a drug test. He tests positive for recent use of marijuana. The panel physician profiles him and manages to get a signed statement that he is a regular pot smoker and makes him swear that he won't use anymore if he gets his immigrant visa!
The next day, he appears for his visa interview where he is denied and told that he has to undergo psychotherapy and prove that he is not a marijuana addict. He is instructed to reapply for a waiver in 11 months. The cruel irony being that he smoked pot just once, in celebration of getting an immigrant visa, just a few days before traveling to MX. He is not a regular pot smoker!
FN is now essentially forced to go back to the same family who raped him as a child to ask for help. He does not speak Spanish fluently and he has no connections in Mexico. He lost his law firm job. He and his husband are facing the foreclosure of their home while his husband is still trying to make regular trips to Mexico, which have become increasingly expensive.
This is a real story, with real people, and real long-lasting impact. Situations like these will undoubtedly continue to occur as long as U.S. federal laws pertaining to drugs are not modified to reflect the public perceptions and scientific findings of the 21st century. When almost half of U.S. population has smoked pot, the treatment that this family has received is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.