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Pot farms » The Senate’s immigration bill also now includes tougher criminal penalties for growing marijuana on public lands after the Judiciary Committee unanimously accepted an amendment offered by Hatchon Monday.

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The new criminal penalties largely target Mexican cartels that for years have set up one-season marijuana farms on Forest Service and BLM land throughout the western United States, including throughout southern Utah.

"We need to enhance penalties for marijuana cultivation on public lands, that will ensure fewer drugs enter the market and protect our natural resources," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

Hatch’s plan, drafted with assistance from Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Utah, would create a new aggravated penalty for growing marijuana on federal lands and impose a sentence that must be served after the criminal served time for an underlying charge for manufacturing or distributing the drug.

It also would create new penalties if people were caught diverting water, using certain fertilizers or using weapons to protect the marijuana plants.

"I have no interest in helping someone steal our federal lands, steal our natural resources to do something that is still illegal," said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Fake ID » At Lee’s request, the Committee also amended the immigration bill to ensure police could continue investigating immigrants who attempt to use fraudulent documents to enter the country or get a job.

The bipartisan sponsors of the immigration-reform bill welcomed the changes offered by Lee, which reestablished existing laws that they inadvertently dropped.

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One amendment made it a criminal offense to knowingly use a fraudulent document to bypass E-verify, the federal program where employers can check on the immigration status of prospective workers.

A second amendment reinstituted the law against attempting to use a doctored passport to enter the nation.

These were the first immigration amendments offered by Lee that the committee accepted. He is one of four committee Republicans to announce their opposition to the comprehensive-reform effort, and the Utahn is expected to vote against the bill when it comes up for a final vote later this week.

Two Republicans — Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona — are sponsors of the bill. While Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, hasn’t indicated his position and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is leaning toward voting for the bill but hasn’t made a final determination.

All of the committee’s 10 Democrats are expected to support the overarching bill.


Twitter: @mattcanham

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