California Proposal Would Make It A ‘Sanctuary State’ For Marijuana

Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Weber

California is putting up a united front against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his federal directive targeting legal weed, with one state lawmaker reviving a proposal this year that would make California a so-called “sanctuary state” for marijuana.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, said Sessions’ decision Thursday to allow federal prosecutors to crack down on marijuana growers and sellers, just as California’s recreational use law took effect, prompts the need for protection from what he called the “outdated federal war on drugs.”

“The impacts of this ill-conceived and poorly executed war are still being felt by communities of color across the state,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement. “The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state.”
Jones-Sawyer said he’d work with Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to advance his 2017 proposal, Assembly Bill 1578. The bill stalled in the Senate in June after clearing the Assembly floor.

Modeled after California’s new law that restricts law enforcement agencies’ ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, helping shield undocumented immigrants from widespread deportation, the bill seeks to prevent state and local agencies from helping federal drug enforcement agencies target the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry without a federal court order.

Meanwhile, state officials acted swiftly this week to identify legal or other actions California can take to block anti-marijuana policies advanced by the Trump administration.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra requested information from U.S. attorneys in California, who represent the federal government in court. Under the Department of Justice memo issued by Sessions this week, U.S. attorneys have the power to aggressively go after marijuana growers and sellers, or to refrain from targeting the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

“I’m hoping to sit down with them,” Becerra said in an interview. “We’ve reached out to the Department of Justice and to the U.S. attorneys in the state of California to find out what they can tell us about what they plan to do to implement the new policy issued by Attorney General Sessions.”

There are four in California, though the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, Brian Stretch, announced this week that he is stepping down. Appointed in 2016 by the Obama administration, his vacancy now leaves Sessions in charge of choosing a successor.

Federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. California voters passed Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016, and public opinion polling indicates support continues to rise.

Becerra has not ruled out a lawsuit, he said Friday.

“We’re ready to protect the state’s laws when it comes to marijuana,” Becerra said. “We’ll do whatever we must to make sure that California’s laws are obeyed.”

Regardless of the Trump administration’s stance, Becerra said California law allowing for legal consumption and sale of recreational weed hasn’t changed. He also said he’s working with other state attorneys general, the governor’s office and the Legislature to identify the best course of action.

“Whether it’s growing or selling or using, my best advice is to know the law in the state of California and know what you are required to do and not do,” Becerra said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León is consulting with former Obama administration U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on other ways California can protect voters’ decision, said de León’s communications director, Anthony Reyes.