Federal Forecast AB-1578 would make California a “sanctuary state” for cannabis

On March 7, 2017, Los Angeles voters overwhelming approved Measure M to create regulations for recreational cannabis, thus setting up the city to be the largest recreational market in the U.S. With all eyes now on L.A., there would be no better place for a display of federal strength than America’s “cannabis capital.”

Assembly Bill 1578, which was co-authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood, was recently introduced in Sacramento. It would prohibit state and local agencies from taking part in any federal crackdowns on cannabis. Thus, transforming California into a “sanctuary state” for cannabis. Specifically, AB-1578 would prevent state or local agencies from using their resources to help the feds “investigate, detain, detect, report or arrest” anyone who is acting in compliance with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) or the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA).

“AB-1578, a bill co-authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood, was recently introduced in Sacramento that would prohibit state and local agencies from taking part in any federal crackdowns on cannabis.”

The bill is largely a symbolic gesture meant to send a clear message to the federal government that California doesn’t want it messing with its cannabis. Recently, officials from The White House have been hinting at possible “greater enforcement” of federal laws against recreational cannabis, causing concern that L.A.’s plans for the recreational industry could be snuffed out by the federal government.

Unfortunately, the reality is—if the federal government wanted to start raiding recreational cannabis shops in L.A., there’s nothing California could do to stop it, because cannabis is still federally illegal. What California can do, however, is refuse to offer it state or local help.

Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, during the Bush administration when the feds took a hard-line stance against medical cannabis, the DEA launched raids on dispensaries across California. Oftentimes, these busts were conducted by the DEA with the help and support of state and local law enforcement. AB-1578 would end those days of cooperation with the federal government. If the feds crack down on recreational cannabis, they would have to do so without state or local help.

Currently, medical cannabis in California is somewhat protected from federal intervention by the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. Passed in 2014, this amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical cannabis businesses that are “fully compliant” with state law. But while the amendment provides some comfort to those in the medical industry, the newly-legalized adult-use industry will enjoy no such protection because the amendment only applies to medical cannabis.

Nonetheless, law enforcement leaders in L.A. seem to believe that the threat is real. In a March interview, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that he fully expects the DOJ to follow through on threats to crack down on recreational cannabis and that he wouldn’t be surprised if the DOJ specifically targeted California just “to set the tone.” If this is true, then L.A. would be a prime target.

Does this mean that all the recreational shops in L.A. are going to get raided by the feds? It is highly unlikely. From a practical standpoint, it wouldn’t be feasible. The DOJ simply doesn’t have enough resources to shut down every single shop in the city. A more likely scenario would be the DOJ going after bigger players in L.A.’s recreational industry in hopes that the threat of prosecution would deter others from operating. But if AB-1578 is passed, the DOJ would have to fight that war alone.

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