California Considers Sanctuary State Legislation to Protect Pot Industry

Vendors offer marijuana for sale at the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino, Calif., April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

California lawmakers are talking about doing for their state’s new marijuana industry what they are also trying to do for illegal immigrants: create a sanctuary state where local police are ordered not to cooperate with federal authorities.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the man who has the power to unleash enforcement of the federal anti-marijuana law that could shut down the multibillion marijuana industry in California and every other state where smoking weed for the fun of it is legal.

“I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer during a White House press briefing in answer to a question about the Trump administration’s stance on legal marijuana.

Sessions said a month later that he didn’t see any need to deviate from the Obama administration’s Cole Memorandum on how the federal government should deal with states that legalized pot. However, lawmakers in California and Colorado decided not to take any chances.

Half a dozen Democrats in Sacramento are backing preemptive action to block the Trump administration from wrecking fledgling marijuana industries with the same tactic being used to protect illegal immigrants: setting up their states as “sanctuary states” for pot production and consumption.

Setting up California as a state where marijuana growers and consumers are protected from federal law is not a new idea.

Proponents of a similar pack of legislation, to establish Colorado as a sanctuary state for marijuana, failed to win approval for the bill as the legislative session came to an end in May.


The Associated Press reported  the Colorado Senate rejected legislation, which had been approved by the House, that would have prevented public employees in the state from “arresting a Colorado citizen for committing an act that is a Colorado constitutional right.”

Opponents in the Senate called the legislation “confusing.” That was enough to kill it.

However, what didn’t fly in Colorado might work in California. Assembly Bill 1578/SB 54 would stop local and state law enforcement from helping Sessions, or anyone else out of Washington, enforce federal marijuana laws.

The California Senate endorsed SB 54. AB 1578 has been approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

“I think this is definitely one of these laws which is being passed to make a statement,” Aaron Herzberg, an attorney and cannabis real estate developer, told the Orange Counter Register. “Whether or not it changes the reality is up for debate.”

While Herzberg saw the legislation as only “token” opposition to Sessions’ anti-marijuana attitude, Kandice Hawes, executive director of the Orange County chapter of NORML, said the legislation was more than merely a statement worth making.

“Cannabis business owners need a state law protecting their interests after going through a lengthy regulation process,” Hawes said.

In a statement of support for AB 1578, the California Growers Association admitted that worries about Sessions running roughshod over the state’s marijuana industry might be nothing but paranoia.


“At this time it is unclear what (if any) steps the federal government will take to follow through on this comment,” the Growers Association statement reads.

“Here in California there are plenty of disagreements about how to move forward with regulating cannabis,” the Growers Association statement concluded. “However, there is widespread agreement that the federal government should not enforce its laws on businesses that are complying with state laws and regulations. We shouldn’t wait.”

Local law enforcement has come out against the idea of stopping federal DEA agents at the California border.

“It really is quite offensive,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Youngblood told the Los Angeles Times he objected to lawmakers “wanting to direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”

AB 1578 is only one of nearly three-dozen proposals before the California Legislature as the state deals with creating a system to regulate the new marijuana industry that was created by voter approval of Prop. 64. The deadline for the Legislature to get its marijuana act together is Jan. 1, 2018.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized that granting sanctuary status to the marijuana industry is not the same as keeping local cops from helping ICE deport illegal immigrants. Enforcing drug laws is what police are supposed to do, the Times wrote, while catching illegal immigrants is not.


But still, the 500-pound elephant in California’s room is Jeff Sessions.

“So far the Trump administration has not attempted to impede those efforts. It may be too much to expect Washington to stay this enlightened course, but Californians knew they were taking that risk when they voted for Proposition 64,” the L.A. Times editorial board wrote.

While California watches Washington and waits for Sessions to drop the hammer, it is understandable the marijuana industry is worried. But, as Sheriff Youngblood sees it, AB 1578 is not the answer.

“This is ridiculous,” Youngblood said, “that this looks like a solution to somebody. (Growing and selling pot) is still a federal felony and we are still in the United States of America, and the state of California cannot take over the United States.”


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