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Since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked Obama-era federal protections for state-legal cannabis businesses in January of this year, the country’s legal weed industry has been waiting for the other shoe to finally drop. However, more than two months after Sessions shredded the Cole memo, feds have yet to raid any pot shops, but politicians in 420-friendly states aren’t waiting for the worst. Instead, several have begun developing legislation to protect ganjapreneurs from any federal interference.
According to a new report from the Associated Press, bills have been introduced in California, Massachusetts, and Alaska to restrict state funds, agencies, and officials from being used to assist federal authorities in the investigation of state-approved canna-businesses.
"If the federal government wants to prosecute someone for breaking federal law, I guess they have every right to do that," Alaska state Rep. Adam Wool, who introduced his state’s cannabis sanctuary bill, told the AP. "I'm just saying, we will have no obligation to assist them."
The “sanctuary” concept was birthed as a response to the federal government’s recently-bolstered immigration enforcement, with a number of states, counties, and cities passing ordinances to help protect residents from the expanded actions of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As of press time, no state has passed an expansive sanctuary bill for the cannabis industry, but the city council of Berkeley, California recently enacted a local version of the same protections, denying federal law enforcement funding, backup, or assistance in any and all matters concerning state-legal cannabis.
"Berkeley has always been a sanctuary city," Berkeley City Councilman Bartlett told the Los Angeles Times last month. "When Jeff Sessions announced he was repealing Obama-era protections on states' rights in regards to cannabis, we decided to step up."
Reiterating those sentiments, California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has pursued marijuana sanctuary status for the Golden State since 2017 — before Sessions rescinded the Cole memo — as a path towards securing social justice in the state’s cannabis industry.
“The impacts of this ill-conceived and poorly executed war are still being felt by communities of color across the state,” Jones-Sawyer said during a statement in January. “The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state.”
In Massachusetts, where regulations for retail cannabis sales are still being finalized, legislators began seeking protections for the soon-to-arrive industry almost as soon as Sessions made the Cole memo announcement in early January.
“We have a state law, it’s valid, and we think it should be respected,” said state Representative Dave Rogers, who filed a cannabis sanctuary state bill in January, to the Boston Globe. “If federal law enforcement has something different in mind, they can use their own resources, because Massachusetts taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to do something that goes against our laws.”
It’s not yet clear if any of the three sanctuary bills will actually make it past their respective legislatures into state law, but pushback from lawmakers against Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana posturing is both encouraging and necessary in the continued fight for cannabis legitimacy.