Filing a federal suit against the governor and attorney general of California, AG Jeff Sessions journeyed to Sacramento on March 7, telling officials that federal rules are the “supreme law” and signaling an ominous development for the U.S. cannabis industry.
While Sessions’ court argument is to remove California’s three bills which support its resistance to tough Trump administration immigration policies, many of the issues mirror federal versus state conflicts over cannabis enforcement.
In addition to California, states like Massachusetts and Alaska are considering passing laws to create “sanctuary cities” prohibiting local law enforcement from cooperating with federal enforcement actions to go after state-legal cannabis businesses.
Last month the city of Berkeley became the first such sanctuary city for cannabis licensed businesses and consumers. And California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer is sponsoring a bill to make such cannabis “sanctuary status” a statewide policy. There are 30 states with legal medical marijuana laws, and nine states (plus DC) which have legalized adult use.
“This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy,” said Governor Jerry Brown. “It’s not wise, it’s not right, and it will not stand,” said Brown, who called Sessions’ fly-in/lawsuit a “political stunt” to further “divide and polarize America.”
California attorney general Xavier Becerra—another strong advocate of protecting voter-initiated cannabis legalization—was also named by Sessions in his lawsuit asking that state immigration laws passed last year are invalidated. Becerra said his state was protected by the Tenth amendment which prohibits the federal government from “commandeering” state law enforcement to participate in federal law enforcement. Former AG Eric Holder will assist the state in its defense against the Sessions’ suits.
Sessions told an audience of about 100 at the state California Peace Officers’ Association that California “is using every power it has, powers it doesn’t have, to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop that.” Sessions said the Golden State is not allowed “to secede” from the rest of the country.
“California has seen that the Trump administration can’t be trusted to prioritize dangerous criminals over, say decent productive people who have simply overstayed their visas…a civil infraction, not a crime,” wrote the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee. They concluded, “Legally, pragmatically and morally, California is on the righteous side of this battle. Let Trump and Sessions bring it on.”
A major Feds versus California fight is also feared in the cannabis enforcement area, where the January 1st start of RMJ sales there was followed by the January 4th elimination of the Cole Memo. Following that action, leading California elected officials like Lt Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R- Long Beach), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) promised to galvanize the state to push back on the Feds.
After Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said he would not rule out possible prosecution against commercial license-holders there, the sanctuary-style bill was suggested. Even while Lelling now says his priority would be prosecuting crimes related to opioid/heroin crimes, and not marijuana offenses.
How Sessions might take on other “states rights” issues remains unclear given the relatively meager resources DOJ or the Drug Enforcement Agency might have to conduct dispensary and grow raids, as it has done before full legalization in California.
For the first time since his election, Trump is slated to visit California, first to view border wall designs in San Diego, then attend a high-ticket fundraiser in Beverly Hills.