California could soon codify resistance to federal marijuana prohibition if state lawmakers pass a recently introduced bill.
Assembly Bill 1578 seeks to bar law enforcement in California from cooperating with federal authorities in ways that violate the state’s cannabis laws.
Citing both California’s medical marijuana policy and voters’ recent legalization of recreational cannabis last November, the bill makes it clear it holds the state’s laws in higher regard than the federal government’s.
If passed, A.B. 1578 would prohibit a state or local agency from “taking certain actions without a court order signed by a judge, including using agency money, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity” that is otherwise allowed in California.
State or local officials include but are not limited to “police, sheriffs, university police, and other campus police agencies.”
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, lists a variety of police actions that would be prohibited unless permitted by a judge’s court order. These include “[r]espond[ing] to a request made by a federal agency for personal information” intended to investigate or punish an individual lawfully using marijuana in California.
State and local agencies and officials would also be barred from “[p]rovid[ing] information about a person who has applied for or received a license to engage in commercial marijuana or commercial medical cannabis activity.”
Though the law would help to shield the robust, profitable industry by shielding legal marijuana businesses, it would not protect marijuana vendors acting outside the parameters of state-approved activity.
A.B. 1578 would also make it illegal to “[t]ransfer an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for purposes of marijuana enforcement or detain an individual at the request of federal law enforcement for conduct that is legal under state law.”
The proposed law is essentially an attempt to strengthen California’s already existing laws, which conflict with federal policy on the plant. According to the federal government, marijuana is still a dangerous drug. Though Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reportedly indicated to lawmakers in Washington D.C., that he does not intend to pursue marijuana offenses in states where it is legal, his past rhetoric against the plant has led some officials to take preemptive action.
Fears of a federal crackdown were also stoked after the DEA requested information regarding marijuana-related crimes in Colorado, claiming the data was “for the new administration.” Further, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement” surrounding legal marijuana.
There are currently a variety of proposed bills in Congress that, collectively, seek to reschedule marijuana and set up a regulatory framework, protect state laws on cannabis, and even decriminalize the plant altogether. Around the country, state legislatures are increasingly approving marijuana use to varying degrees.
According to Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, a pro-marijuana advocacy group, the introduction of A.B. 1578 in California is a positive development. “This is the equivalent of noncooperation on deportation and environmental laws — part of the larger California resistance to federal intrusion,” he told L.A. Weekly.
Nevertheless, the proposed California bill has been met with opposition from law enforcement. President of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, expressed disapproval toward A.B. 1578. “It really is quite offensive,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Legislators want to “direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”
But California has previously resisted questionable federal law. Following the controversial passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, a federal law that allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens, the California legislature passed a law nullifying those provisions. Like A.B. 1578, the nullification bill barred local and state law enforcement from assisting federal authorities.
Currently, California lawmakers are pledging resistance to the Trump administration on everything from climate policy to immigration. As co-author of the bill, Assembly Rob Bonta, said, referencing California voters’ decision to legalize marijuana:
“As this administration has threatened to defund California, we should not be expending scarce local and state resources to assist the federal government in ways that run counter to the crystal-clear wishes of California voters.”