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S. 2021 (116th): Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act

Should marijuana use or possession be grounds for expulsion from the U.S.?


More than 34,000 undocumented immigrants were deported between 2007 and 2012 for marijuana possession as their most serious offense.

This dropped considerably starting in November 2014, after the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that marijuana possession would no longer be an “enforcement priority” for deportation officials.

However, the Trump Administration reverted to once again making it a federal enforcement priority.

What the legislation does

The Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act would remove use, possession, or distribution of marijuana from the list of actions meriting deportation.

It would also establish that any undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported for such a marijuana-related offense can apply for readmission to the country.

The Senate version was introduced on June 27 as bill number S. 2021, by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The House version was introduced almost three months later on September 18 as bill number H.R. 4390, by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM3).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that nobody should be deported for such a relatively harmless and non-criminal offense.

“The Trump administration’s decision to use marijuana as a weapon against our immigrant communities is despicable,” Rep. Luján said in a press release. “The federal government should not be wasting resources to wreak havoc on immigrant families… This legislation [would] hold President Trump accountable and defend our immigrant communities from senseless and hateful policies.”

“This Administration’s efforts to use marijuana possession as a tool for deportation is misguided and does not make our communities safer,” Sen. Booker said in the same press release. “Limited law enforcement resources should not be wasted on deporting people for something two of the last three presidents [Barack Obama and George W. Bush] have admitted to doing. This legislation will remove another one of ICE’s weapons that have been deployed to execute this Administration’s hardline immigration policy.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, any violation of federal law is legitimate grounds for deportation.

“Its use and possession is against federal law, and until the law is changed by the U.S. Congress we in DHS are sworn to uphold all the laws on the books,” Trump’s former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said in a speech.

“ICE [Immmigration and Customs Enforcement] will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation / removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens,” Kelly continued. “They have done this in the past, are doing it today, and will do it in the future.”

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 22 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate version has not yet attracted any cosponsors — an oddity, considering it’s been out for months longer than the House version, and that its lead sponsor is a prominent presidential candidate with much higher name recognition.

It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but passage is particularly unlikely in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Last updated Oct 14, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 27, 2019.

Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act

This bill removes offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of marijuana from the list of crimes that could render an alien inadmissible into the United States or deportable. An alien previously denied a visa for such marijuana-related activities may reapply for a visa, and an alien previously deported for such activities shall be readmitted into the United States if not otherwise inadmissible.