The Berkeley City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday, Feb. 13 to declare the city a sanctuary for recreational cannabis. Under the new resolution, city agencies and employees will not be allowed to provide information about legal cannabis or “use any city funds or resources to assist in the federal drug laws related to cannabis.” The resolution also states “the city of Berkeley does not support cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] in its efforts to undermine state and local cannabis laws.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the move was a response to threats by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the crackdown on cannabis following the decision to legalize recreational cannabis. Arreguin also mentioned in a tweet that Berkeley may be the country’s first city to be declared a sanctuary city for cannabis. The city’s resolution also mentioned the harm caused by the war on drugs and claimed that legalizing cannabis serves as a step toward addressing those harms.
In January, Sessions ended an Obama-era federal policy, known as the “Cole Memo,” that directed federal agencies to take a more “hands-off” approach to state cannabis laws, which opened the door for the DEA to go after state-legal cannabis consumers and businesses more aggressively. California voters approved legal cannabis in November 2016 and recreational retail went into effect at the beginning of the year, just a few days before Sessions rescinded the Cole memo. While California and other states have decriminalized or legalized cannabis use, the drug is still illegal under federal law.
The city of Berkeley has a rich history of cannabis advocacy and lenient cannabis laws. In 1979, voters passed the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, which called for the police department to make cannabis crimes its lowest priority. Ten years ago, Berkeley City Council adopted a similar resolution that applied to medical cannabis, declaring the city a sanctuary city for all medical cannabis patients and providers.