On June 1, 2017, California moved one step closer to becoming a cannabis “sanctuary state” with the State Assembly’s passage of Assembly Bill 1578. Essentially, the bill would prevent local and state authorities from assisting in federal raids against California business owners who are otherwise abiding by state cannabis laws. Considering the White House’s recent “War on Drugs” rhetoric, the passage of this bill could provide the safeguard that California’s burgeoning cannabis industry desperately needs.
California Barred From Aiding in Federal Enforcement Efforts
AB-1578 seeks to protect our state’s cannabis industry by barring local and state authorities, absent court order, from using resources to help federal drug agents arrest people who are complying with California’s cannabis laws. The bill guts all funding for such action and prohibits local and state authorities from handing anyone over to federal agents for cannabis-related prosecution. The bill mirrors existing immigration policies adopted by some local authorities, which already independently decided not to participate in federal deportations.
“With L.A. finally being on the verge of permitting, the passage of AB-1578 is more important than ever.”
AB-1578 Passes California Assembly On Its Way to the Senate
AB-1578 cleared its first hurdle! With a slim 41-32 vote, Republican lawmakers met the bill with strong opposition. Backed by members of law enforcement, the Republicans argued that the bill could hamper the working relationship between state and federal officers. However the bill’s author, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), argued that the legislation is necessary because President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions “threatened to resume enforcement of federal law,” which, of course, considers cannabis an illegal Schedule I drug. The bill achieved the bare majority vote required to pass the Assembly. Now, it heads to be heard by the Senate Public Safety Committee before Gov. Jerry Brown can sign it into law.
Why California Needs AB-1578
In a memo to staff in May, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” for drug crimes, a complete U-turn on the Obama administration’s lenient policies on low-level drug crimes. Since 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has prevented the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using federal funds to prosecute cannabis crimes in cannabis-friendly states, including California. In 2017, Trump temporarily renewed the amendment until September when it is up for reassessment once more. Despite Congress’s decision to halt the DOJ enforcement efforts, Sessions recently tried to galvanize his “war on drugs” by sending a personal letter to Congress requesting permission to prosecute medical cannabis providers.
The threat at federal level is clearly becoming a real prospect for California’s cannabis industry. However, should AB-1578 pass, the DOJ wont be able to rely on state or local resources to help further their agenda. Although Federal resources are far greater than state, without help from state authorities it is infeasible for the DOJ to attempt widespread federal prosecution throughout the state.
Los Angeles Blooms Under AB-1578
In June, L.A. city officials released proposed rules for licensed cannabis shops in the city. According to the draft rules, the city will be legalizing and fully licensing almost all aspects of the commercial cannabis industry, thus creating an opportunity for the city to cash-in on an estimated $50 million tax revenue in 2018 alone.
With L.A. finally being on the verge of permitting, the passage of AB-1578 is more important than ever. The city’s regulations will be impossible to implement if the feds decide to raid and arrest individuals operating state and locally compliant businesses. Should AB-1578 pass, L.A.’s regulatory framework is far more likely to succeed.
While the bill in no way provides absolute protection from the feds, the protection that it does afford is enough to provide hope for the growth of the industry. AB-1578 will ease the fears of citizens, cannabis business owners and local governments, alike, and allow the cannabis industry to continue to bloom in California.