California Could Become A Marijuana Safe Haven

By Kelly Burch 04/04/17

New legislation aims to discourage local police from cooperating with federal authorities on most legal marijuana issues. 

Hollyweed sign in Hollywood, California

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would bar local law enforcement from cooperating with the anti-marijuana efforts of federal authorities.

California is one of seven states and the District of Columbia that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, it remains illegal at the federal level, classified by the government as one of the most dangerous drugs.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1578, would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using resources to assist federal agencies in investigating, reporting or arresting people who are involved with marijuana operations that are legal under state law.

There would be exceptions in cases where a court order is issued. The bill would also forbid local agencies from providing federal law enforcement with information about people who have been issued state licenses for marijuana operations.

Last fall, California voters passed a ballot measure to approve recreational marijuana, and the state plans to begin issuing permits for marijuana sales on January 1, 2018.

“I think it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana in the United States,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the time.

However, under the new Trump administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed interested in enforcing the federal ban on marijuana more stringently.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles said that he proposed the California legislation in order to protect "one of the greatest businesses" in California.

The bill is based on similar legislation designed to discourage local police from cooperating with federal authorities on issues like immigration enforcement. 

"This is the equivalent of noncooperation on deportation and environmental laws, part of the larger California resistance to federal intrusion," Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told LA Weekly.  

While people in the marijuana industry are in favor of the measure, some California law enforcement officials have spoken out against the bill. 

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

“[Growing and selling marijuana] 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,” he said. 

However, Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer said that Bill 1578 is an important step toward protecting the will of the California public. 

“Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces … the will of our state’s voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64,” he said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.