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Berkeley, California Becomes First Sanctuary City for Cannabis, Cuts Retail Pot Tax in Half

The Bay Area’s college town wants to attract cannabusinesses and consumers with fewer fees, while protecting them from federal threats through citywide safeguards.

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Photo via Bill Dally

The City Council of Berkeley, California overwhelmingly supported two 420-friendly measures on Tuesday, reducing the city’s retail cannabis tax rate by 50% while turning the progressive bastion into the country’s first sanctuary city for legal weed.

According to the L.A. Times, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to pass the sanctuary provision, blocking any local agencies, officials, or employees from using city funding or providing information to assist federal investigations into state-legal cannabis.

"The city of Berkeley does not support cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration in its efforts to undermine state and local marijuana laws," the measure reads.

Passed less than two months since the beginning of California’s adult-use retail cannabis market, the sanctuary resolution is a direct rebuttal to Jeff Sessions’s decision to revoke the Obama-era “Cole memo” last month, which was a de facto set of guidelines instructing the Department of Justice to divert resources away from state-sanctioned cannabusiness.

Since before Sessions even took over as Attorney General, he has repeatedly made erroneous and divisive claims about cannabis, with the removal of the Cole memo received largely as a threat against the fight for marijuana reform.

For Berkeley officials, the sanctuary city measure is a first-of-its-kind attempt at preventing a long-feared federal crackdown.

"Berkeley has always been a sanctuary city," Councilman Bartlett added. "When Jeff Sessions announced he was repealing Obama-era protections on states' rights in regards to cannabis, we decided to step up."

According to SFGate, in addition to the cannabusiness protections, city councilors passed a cannabis tax cut introduced by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, reducing the city’s retail cannabis tax from ten to five-percent. An effort to attract ganjapreneurs, local consumers and green tourists alike, city councilors noted that Berkeley’s original 10% rate was arbitrary from the start.

From the day California opened pot shops for adult-use cannabis sales, high taxes have been one of the most cited complaints from both customers and retailers alike.

Unlike the sanctuary city measure, the Berkeley City Council did not come to a unanimous agreement about the legal weed tax reduction, with two Councilors abstaining from the vote in objection.

“Once you’ve lowered a tax, you pretty much are locking in that reduction,” said Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who did not vote on the tax reduction, to SFGate. “This is way too soon to be making a change.”

Even with those minor objections, the tax reduction measure will go into effect after a second City Council reading later this month, joining the sanctuary city law in confirming Berkeley as one of the most welcoming municipalities in California’s growing cannabis green rush.