Facing a potential cannabis crackdown by federal forces, politicians in one of the nation’s most pot-friendly states want to ensure that both industry and residents will have some legal room to breathe.
If passed, California Assembly Bill 1578 would take steps to protect the state’s legal cannabis operations from being busted by federal enforcers, a scenario that new U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions hinted could occur down the road. Like similar legislation being considered to create immigration “sanctuary” in certain cities for undocumented persons who live and work there, the law would restrict federal ability to interfere in local matters by commandeering local resources.
To help keep federal quests to enforce cannabis’ Schedule I drug-status from burdening California cops (and coffers), the law would prohibit state and local authorities from participating in certain actions without a judge’s court order. According to the bill, such actions would include “using agency money, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person [and/or transfer them to federal authorites] for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity that is authorized by law in the State of California.”
The bill was introduced in February by Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from South Los Angeles’ 59th District, along with two senators and three other assembly members, Leafly reported. In addition to blocking local officials from being compelled to enforce federal-only cannabis laws, the law would prevent them from sharing personal information about cannabis businesses or consumers with federal authorities.
According to Jones-Sawyer, the bill would also support more effective use of law enforcement resources for all authority groups involved, as it’s specifically aimed to protect persons and businesses which the state of California has deemed legal–and there are plenty it has not. Leafly noted that there are an estimated 1,400 illegal dispensaries operating in Los Angeles alone, as compared to 135 legal ones. “I’m not impeding in any way, shape or fashion, law enforcement’s ability to go after those illegal ones,” Jones-Sawyer said. “In fact, I encourage it.”
At the same time, those who are being arrested aren’t your new-in-town, VC-funded cannapreneurs, according to drug reform advocates nationwide. Rather, they often come from diverse communities of color like Jones-Sawyer’s, and have been instrumental in making cannabis what it is today through decades of hard work and legal pressure. Reducing such pressure on “brilliant business people” who can help the cannabis industry soar, he told Leafly, will enable a boon all around.
“[The] business will ultimately be very good for minorities and Africans-Americans and I think this bill will ensure that we don’t impede that growth,” Jones-Sawyer said.
The LA Weekly reported that proponents of cannabis reform in the state are already showing support, including those who’re still catching up to California’s own laws. The Southern California Coalition, which lobbies for cannabis enterprise in Greater L.A., told the paper it is behind the legislation, despite the fact that some of the “gray-area” businesses it represents won’t be among those protected.
“Cherry-picking when to respect states’ rights and arbitrarily doing so is inconsistent at best and confusing at most,” commented executive director Adam Spiker via email. “We are looking forward to making sure the intent of AB 1578 becomes law.”
Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the nonprofit cannabis-reform advocacy group NORML, also told the LA Weekly, “This is the equivalent of noncooperation on deportation and environmental laws, part of the larger California resistance to federal intrusion.”
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, meanwhile, told the Los Angeles Times the bill was “really quite offensive,” and represented a desire “to direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”
Which indeed, in all fairness, laws and their makers are wont to do.
Janet Burns covers tech, culture, and other fun stuff from Brooklyn, NY. She also hosts the cannabis news podcast The Toke.