SACRAMENTO — California is considering another step to protect its interests — specifically, its weed — from Washington meddling.
The proposal — the first of its kind in the nation — would prevent state and local police from helping federal agents crack down on marijuana activity that California has deemed to be legal. Despite objections from law enforcement, it cleared the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday by a 5-2 vote.
“AB 1578 is intended to prevent federal government overreach in the Trump era,” Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance, the bill’s sponsor, told the committee. “While we cannot fully control what the Trump administration does, we can prevent the misuse of California’s public dollars and resources for (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions’ misguided war on marijuana.”
The bill, carried by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, would prevent California police from using state resources to “investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for marijuana activity that is authorized by law in the State of California,” according to a Public Safety Committee staff analysis.
Sound familiar? That’s because it was modeled after another pending bill — Senate Bill 54, which aims to prevent police in California from helping federal immigration agents deport undocumented immigrants, said Lyman, whose national group advocates for the reform of drug laws.
When voters passed Proposition 64 in November, California joined a growing number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana for people 21 and older. But marijuana is still banned under federal law, and Sessions has fueled speculation that he might not leave the regulation and enforcement of pot up to the states.
In February, the attorney general said he was “dubious” about the recreational marijuana trend.
“I think people are obviously confused,” said Matt Stang, chief revenue officer of High Times, a publication that recently moved from New York to Los Angeles. “There have been incredibly mixed signals from Trump as candidate, as president, and from Jeff Sessions. The question is how much latitude does Sessions have to go after his personal priorities.”
Stang said the bill — which must clear several more legislative hurdles — could be a blueprint for other states grappling with the same uncertainty.
Meanwhile, legislation pending in Congress from Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, of Huntington Beach — the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 — could resolve the conflict at the federal level. His bill, which has yet to have a hearing, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act so that it doesn’t apply to anyone who “produces, possesses, distributes, dispenses, administers, or delivers marijuana in compliance with state laws.”
Some California law enforcement authorities and city officials worry that California’s bill will run afoul of federal law and create more conflict with Washington. Opponents of the California bill include California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys and the League of California Cities.
Ironically, they said, it could make make Proposition 64 more vulnerable to attack by undermining communication with federal authorities.
“This is not the time to poke the bear,” said Tim Cromartie, of the League of California Cities.
The bill is largely symbolic, said Stanford Law Professor Rob MacCoun, an expert on drug policy, as “it doesn’t prevent federal crackdowns, but it signals that they will be both legally and politically costly for the feds.”
While the bill is “most defensible” for local sales transactions, he added, “if California’s industry gets involved in interstate commerce — whether intentionally or unintentionally — then all bets are off.”
ASSEMBLY BILL 1578
Introduced by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, it would prevent local and state police from using state resources to “investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for marijuana activity that is authorized by law in the State of California and transferring an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for purposes of marijuana enforcement, unless directed to do so by a court order.”