California may become the first “sanctuary state” in the country for pot smokers after a new piece of legislation was sent to the Senate Monday.
The law still needs to get through the Senate and its Public Safety Committee before Gov. Jerry Brown can sign it into law. The legislation appears to have drawn a lot of enthusiasm, even from Trump supporters.
“The Department of Justice has more important things to worry about than whether responsible adults are consuming marijuana, especially in a state that had the sense to legalize and regulate it,” former police commander Diane Goldstein, an executive board member of the decriminalization group Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), said via email.
“A majority of Americans — including folks who voted for President Trump — do not want the federal government to interfere with states’ marijuana laws.”
The bill would prevent state and local law enforcement from helping enforce federal drug laws against residents who, while breaking federal marijuana law, are in compliance with California law.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a lobbying group in support of the bill, said the legislation is the result of states’ growing fears that the Department of Justice will crack down on marijuana nationally under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Trump and Sessions’ threat to California is real,” DPA state director Lynne Lyman said in a statement.
“It threatens to ensnare law-abiding residents in costly — financially and personally — legal battles and possible incarceration or deportation. It is dangerous and it is expensive, which means passing Assembly Bill 1578 is urgent.”
Drug Policy Alliance described the law this way:
“Absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not assist in any federal enforcement against state-authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.”
The nonprofit says it’s a necessary bill in a state with more dispensaries and cultivated acreage than any other. Early on, pot proponents said the Trump administration’s intentions weren’t entirely transparent. President Trump had expressed some support for medical marijuana in the past, for example.
California, Oregon, and Colorado are each pursuing some degree of legislation protecting residents in the weed industry from federal interference, but California’s is the most drastic.
The Colorado Senate passed SB-197 in April, which allows recreational marijuana producers to reclassify as medical marijuana producers in the event of any federal legislation cracking down on the industry, and Oregon passed legislation the same month protecting the identities of pot users from being revealed to federal agents by the state’s distributors.
In the past, Sessions has been staunchly opposed to pot legalization. During a 2016 hearing investigating the federal government for not enforcing marijuana laws, Sessions said, “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
The attorney general’s more recent statements on the topic indicate that California, Colorado, and Oregon may be overreacting, however. Sessions met in April with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and three other governors of states that have legalized pot and signaled he will leave state pot laws alone.
In the meeting, Sessions allegedly implied federal marijuana enforcement in legal states is not a real priority for the Department of Justice. Hickenlooper noted Sessions made it very clear he is against marijuana legalization of any form and will continue to speak out against it, but acknowledged the democratic right of voters to make up their own minds.