When Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum in January, the cannabis industry was left reeling. In the case of the City of Berkeley, California, they fought back. In February the city announced they would become a sanctuary for cannabis businesses, refusing to help the federal government make waves in the industry.
In a tweet, Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote, “In light of threats by Attorney General Sessions regarding a misguided crackdown on our democratic decision to legalize recreational cannabis, we have become what may be the first city in the country to declare ourselves a sanctuary city for cannabis.”
Under the new resolution, the City of Berkeley proclaimed that no department, agency, commission, office or employee “shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal drug laws related to cannabis.” The resolution went on to read: “The city of Berkeley does not support cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration in its efforts to undermine state and local marijuana laws.”
And Berkeley isn’t alone. Massachusetts State Representatives Dave Rogers and Mike Connolly filed a bill called the “Refusal of Compliance Act.” This legislation would prevent local and state authorities from enforcing federal law if the individuals follow state cannabis laws. And while it hasn’t been approved as of this writing, it’s a step in the right direction.
“The changed policy roiled the waters in these places where marijuana is legal,” Rogers told Newsweek. “If the FBI or federal cops or the U.S. attorney want to pursue these cases, perhaps that’s their prerogative. But they will get no help at all from state or local police.”
Do these sanctuaries represent a new trend in the industry?
According to Lezli Engelking, Founder and CEO of FOCUS,The Cannabis Health and Safety Organization, it’s a distinct possibility. “Most cannabis regulations are ‘me too’ regulations, meaning the regulations are developed based on the things they have seen other jurisdictions implement,” she remarked. “Thus, it would not surprise me to see other jurisdictions within California mimic this move by Berkeley. Beyond California though, it will vary by state.”
What could this wave of cannabis support do for the industry?
For one thing, it hinders the government’s ability to cause trouble and frighten legitimate users with scare tactics. That’s all Serge Chistov, a Financial Partner of the Honest Marijuana Company, sees Attorney General Sessions’ statement as.
“I believe the intention is to scare,” stated Chistov. “Listen, the way the marijuana business is controlled right now, if it is controlled or regulated, is no different than the alcohol industry or any other controlled substances. Despite the fact that Sessions dislikes the industry and believes cannabis is a gateway drug . . . we believe the bark is louder than the bite. If he wanted to act on the matter, he probably would have done it by now.”
Chistov also argues that cannabis is too profitable for its legal status to come under scrutiny by the federal government—sanctuary or not. The states that have passed cannabis have already worked the resulting taxes into their budget, and the government would have no way to supplement that income if they took it away. In addition, Chistov questions if rolling back legalization would even work.
“If [Sessions] went backwards, it would not stop people from consuming. It never did, throughout all the years of prohibition,” explained Chistov. “We would just simply transition billions of dollars from the pockets of the states back into the pockets of the cartels. That would be a challenging battle to fight for Sessions and the administration. I don’t think they are up for it.”
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see, though it doesn’t seem like the marijuana industry is going anywhere, no matter what Sessions says. “I don’t think that the use of any marijuana will be affected,” argued Chistov. “The fact is, we are legalizing something that people have been using for hundreds of years legally or illegally. If anyone thinks that by signing [a] law they will stop people from consuming cannabis, they are funnier than they think they are.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also pushed back against Sessions’ announcement in a statement.“Let’s be clear,” said Durkan. “Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults. Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions.”