Sanctuary Cities: Why They Are Important For Medical Cannabis Communities

Berkeley, one of California’s most progressively pro-cannabis cities, did it first. Now the entire state may follow suit. Alaska and Massachusetts may also join in on the movement.


Last month, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution declaring official sanctuary status for recreational marijuana, hoping to fend off a federal challenge from the Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice. Under the Berkeley resolution, “no department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the City of Berkeley shall use any City funds to assist in the enforcement of Federal drug laws related to cannabis.”

The vote was a direct response to Sessions’ decision in January to roll back Obama-era protections for the cannabis industry. Sessions announced the DEA would be free to go after state-legal marijuana growers and stores because they are in violation of federal law.

“We knew we had to do something,” Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett told the Associated Press. “This is a new engine of a healthy economy.” Berkeley became a sanctuary city for medical cannabis in 2008.

Less than a month after Berkeley’s vote, similar bills are pending in the state capitals of Alaska, California and Massachusetts.

Alaska state Rep. Adam Wool introduced his bill to protect the nascent industry. “If the federal government wants to prosecute someone for breaking federal law, I guess they have every right to do that,” said Wool, a Democrat from one of the state’s largest marijuana-growing areas. “I’m just saying, we will have no obligation to assist them.”

Last week, Mass. state Reps. Dave Rogers and Mike Connolly filed a bill called the “Refusal of Compliance Act.” The law would prevent local and state authorities from handing over people who follow state cannabis laws to federal agents unless those agents have a warrant.

“Massachusetts voters have gone to the polls and expressed their support for what I’d call a sensible drug policy and an end to marijuana prohibition,” said Connolly. “I can appreciate the parallel between this and more typical sanctuary-state-type stuff. I think the comparison is pretty clear, to the extent that we are a state government responding to the will of our own voters and people in our community.”

Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, said the federal government is focused more on larger markets such a California. “I don’t think the feds care too much about marijuana in Alaska, to tell you the truth,” he told AP. “But marijuana has been a big industry in this state, so we’re sort of on the front lines.”

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, doubts federal agents would hassle companies complying with state law. “But you can’t put it past them,” he said, adding that new U.S. attorneys have been appointed by President Donald Trump in many states. “I wouldn’t put it past at least a few of them to want to gain points with their boss. But I think, politically, it would be a disaster for them.”

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