The state of California continues to draw lines in the sand in its continuing battle against the federal government. First the issues were immigration and environmental protection; now the state is turning its attention to the flourishing cannabis industry.
State voters passed Proposition 64, ending cannabis prohibition in the state, last November. But President Trump and his administration have hinted at a possible federal crackdown, leaving cannabis advocates worried about the possibility of federal raids and prosecutions.
So some state leaders are taking proactive steps to counter such a move. California Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who represents the 59th District in South Los Angeles, introduced legislation last month to protect law-abiding Californians in the cannabis industry from federal prosecution.
Co-authored with three other assembly members and two senators, AB 1578 states that short of a court order, local law enforcement, regulators, and state and local agencies would be prohibited from helping a federal agency “investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person” for cannabis or medicinal cannabis activity.
The proposed bill also bars local officials from giving the feds personal information about cannabis consumers or businesses, or sharing data about any individual who applied for or received a license to engage in the commercial or medical cannabis industry.
Jones-Sawyer, who has been a longtime advocate for ending cannabis prohibition, emphasized earlier this week that his legislation only protects people who are operating lawfully in the state. In Los Angeles, there are 135 legal dispensaries and more than 1,400 illegal ones, he said. It’s a much better use of local, state, and county law enforcement resources to go after the ones breaking the law.
“The low hanging fruit,” Jones-Sawyer said.
“I’m not impeding in any way, shape or fashion, law enforcement’s ability to go after those illegal ones,” he said. “In fact, I encourage it.”
Jones-Sawyer’s district is highly diverse, and he aims to involve more of this overlooked community in the cannabis industry. In fact, he’s been working on a way to reincorporate those who were incarcerated when cannabis was illegal, back into the business now that it’s poised to be regulated.
Many of those arrested don’t have a business degree from a swanky school like Harvard, but are “brilliant business people,” he said, who could thrive in today’s cannabis industry.
“This business will ultimately be very good for minorities and Africans-Americans and I think this bill [AB 1578] will ensure that we don’t impede that growth,” said Jones-Sawyer.
While Obama had more of a, let-sleeping-dogs-lie policy when it came to marijuana enforcement, President Donald Trump and his administration have indicated that type of loose oversight may be a thing of the past. In a February press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that states could expect “greater enforcement” against cannabis use and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would also be considering recreational use of the drug.
California isn’t the only state working to preemptively block a federal crackdown. In Oregon, legislators are considering an “emergency act” to protect residents who buy cannabis in the state. Dispensaries in Oregon are required to record the personal information of each purchaser, but under the proposed bill, retailers would have to destroy that info within 48 hours and it would be illegal to share the data with anyone else. In Washington, Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, asking him to respect the Cole Memorandum. In Colorado, pending legislation would allow the state’s 500 or so recreational growers to instantly re-classify their cannabis as medical if the feds ramp up enforcement.
Jones-Sawyer’s bill in California will have its first hearing April 18 in the Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety, of which he himself is the chair. From there, with Democratic majorities in both houses, the legislation has “every likelihood of passing,” according to Darren W. Parker, Special Assistant to the Speaker.
AB 1578 isn’t an act of defiance to the existing government, Parker said, but rather California’s effort – as the sixth largest economy in the world to “circle the wagons,” and to protect what the state has and safeguard the way California does business.
“This is not symbolic, it’s actually being done to have some teeth,” he said.