Gimme Shelter: Massachusetts Lawmakers Push To Become A Marijuana Sanctuary State

Photo Credit: Alain Jocard

For those looking for protection from a potential federal government crackdown on the legal marijuana industry, it could just be a state away.

Two lawmakers in Massachusetts, where legal recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin later this year, have introduced a bill that essentially makes The Bay State a so-called “marijuana sanctuary state.”

The bill, introduced by Dave Rogers and Mike Connolly, both representing Cambridge, would bar law enforcement officials in the state from complying with any federal-ordered crackdown on legal cannabis operations. They filed the bill in reaction to two significant events.

Cannabis Crackdown

In early January, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions — the former Alabama senator who strongly opposes the use of marijuana and says so frequently — announced rescinded an Obama Administration policy that mandated a hands-off approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws against businesses operating in compliance with state law in where marijuana is legal.

In Massachusetts, U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling — a Trump Administration appointee — then followed in Sessions’ footsteps and announced he could not offer any assurance that he would take a hands-off approach to marijuana sales in the state, even if it was approved by voters.

None of that is good news for the recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts, which hasn’t even started yet. That motivated Rogers and Connolly to make a move.

‘No help.’

In an interview with Newsweek, Rogers said the bill is aimed at providing support for the state’s fledging recreational marijuana market in the light of threatening statements from Sessions and Lelling.

Rogers told Newsweek if “the FBI or federal cops or the U.S. attorney want to pursue these cases, perhaps that’s their prerogative. But they will get no help at all from state or local police.”

It’s easy to see why marijuana entrepreneurs might feel nervous. Massachusetts voters have been very clear about what they want. They approved medical marijuana in 2012 and recreational marijuana in 2016. But businesses are not sure they can count on the government.

The statements from Sessions and Lelling have had a chilling effect. In the wake of Sessions’ decision, one vendor stopped processing debit cards for medical marijuana transactions. Although only a temporary move, it indicates how jittery some businesses are about the current environment around legal marijuana.

Still, much like in California where recreational sales have already started, most entrepreneurs in Massachusetts are forging ahead. Protests also have been mounted. After Sessions made his decision, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance protested outside of the federal courthouse in Boston.

According to the Salem News, Gov. Charlie Baker has argued that federal prosecutors would do better spending their resources fighting the opioid crisis rather than marijuana, saying, “Let’s focus on the stuff right now that’s wreaking havoc across our commonwealth.”