Massachusetts cannabis industry leaders are currently drafting legislation that would prohibit state and municipal employees from cooperating with federal investigators intending to prosecute legally-operating marijuana businesses under state law.
The bill, titled “The Refusal of Complicity Act,” is being written in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent statement revoking the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy that barred federal intervention in the state-wide legalization of marijuana, said Jim Borghesani, the Massachusetts spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Following Sessions’ action, Massachusetts District Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement he could not guarantee the immunity of cannabis businesses from federal prosecution.
The bill has not yet been released, but it main clause will ensure Massachusetts maintains its solidarity in curbing federal intervention in legal cannabis commerce, Borghesani said. If state or local employees cooperate with federal investigators, they will be subject to a lawsuit under this bill.
“So if there’s a scenario — it might be that the federal government decides they are going to charge a legal operator with a crime — no local police agency would be able to participate in that operation in any way whatsoever,” Borghesani said.
Will Luzier, the Massachusetts political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said there may also be an additional section of the bill prohibiting state engagement in civil enforcement. Civil enforcement refers to a procedure in which authorities seize and sell land used for marijuana commerce even when the operator hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
The bill’s working group, led by cannabis attorneys Richard Evans and Michael Cutler, plans to complete the bill in the coming weeks, after which they will seek sponsorship from state legislators, Borghesani said.
Similar bills are being considered in the California state legislature and Congress.
Borghesani said ultimately, the federal threat to the cannabis industry will likely be temporary, due to the widespread nature of the marijuana legalization effort in Massachusetts and other states.
“I think this is more than anything, just a temporary concern,” Borghesani said. “I think that the legalization movement has had such momentum, that neither Jeff Sessions nor anyone else in the federal government is ultimately going to be able to stop the inevitability of cannabis legalization in more states.”
Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said he hopes a legislative measure will clarify the state of cannabis commerce in Massachusetts.
“[There’s] just a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty around what’s going on between the U.S. attorney general and what the state law says,” Jefferson said. “I think this legislation will help clarify what can and can’t be done in the commonwealth because the U.S. attorney general has prosecution powers but doesn’t create legislation.”
Moreover, Jefferson said the right to cannabis use must be protected because Massachusetts residents have repeatedly voted in favor of the legalization of marijuana.
“Constituents have voted time and time again, and they want legalized cannabis,” Jefferson said. “[This bill] would just send that message that this is what we want, and we are willing to take legal action to protect our rights as constituents.”
Several Boston residents expressed mixed sentiments about the state of legalized marijuana in Massachusetts.
Brian Burns, 24, of Allston, said he supports the idea of legislation preserving the legality of marijuana in the state.
“It sounds good in theory,” Burns said. “I feel like it’s nice if Massachusetts could take the initiative if they think the dispensaries and the companies are going about it in an ethical way.”
Collin Perciballi, 28, of Brighton, said while he supports marijuana legalization, he doesn’t think states should be able to violate federal law.
“I’m for cannabis legalization, but I’m not for states violating federal law,” Perciballi said. “It’s federal law so they have to comply with [it].”
Hema Chug, 30, of Allston, said she thinks Massachusetts should defend the people’s right to cannabis use.
“I support the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, so I totally support if Massachusetts wants to defend the people’s right to have recreational or medicinal marijuana,” Chug said. “People voted for it in the last election, so I think the federal government should abide what people’s opinion is about this matter and then, it shouldn’t intervene.”