The city of Berkeley in California has declared itself a sanctuary for recreational cannabis. This was after members of the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution supporting the declaration.
The resolution was authored by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, and Councilman Ben Bartlett.
“The city’s move to declare itself a recreational cannabis sanctuary is a response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threats against the democratic decision of some states to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.” – Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin
In effect, Berkeley has become what may be the country’s first city to declare itself a recreational cannabis sanctuary.
What does it mean to be a sanctuary for recreational cannabis?
The resolution states that the city does not support and will not cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its efforts to threaten and undermine local and state cannabis laws.
The resolution specifically prohibits city departments, agencies, employees, and officials from taking advantage of Berkeley’s resources to assist the federal government in enforcing federal cannabis laws. It also prohibits them from providing information related to legal cannabis activities in the city.
“Millions of peaceful U.S. citizens have been arrested, fined, jailed, or needlessly criminalized and stigmatized for using cannabis,” Arreguín said. “This War on Drugs,” he noted, “has cost the country over $1 trillion, turning it into a nation of mass incarceration, where two million Americans have been imprisoned. What’s worse is that the enforcement of drug laws – especially those pertaining to cannabis – has had a disproportionate effect on people of color. Putting an end to this misguided policy has long been overdue.”
According Arreguin, the city’s move was “a response to United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threats against the states’ democratic decision to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.”
Sessions’ decision to enforce federal cannabis laws
It can be recalled that Sessions decided to rescind the Cole Memorandum, a federal policy put in place in 2013 by the Obama administration to make sure that the federal government does not interfere with state cannabis laws. The Cole Memo is what prevented crack downs by federal attorneys on cannabis businesses as long as they complied with state regulations.
In January, Sessions gave federal prosecutors the authority to take on cannabis-related cases pursuant to “the principles governing federal prosecutions.” He also authorized the use of the Justice Department’s resources in the enforcement of federal drug laws.
California has completely legalized cannabis. But while the sale of medical cannabis in the state has been legal for some time now, the sale of recreational cannabis has only been legalized last month.
Limitations of the sanctuary law
Berkeley’s sanctuary law, however, does not cover other Schedule I substances, or drugs that have been considered by the DEA as having no therapeutic benefits and have a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs other than cannabis include heroin, LSD, methaqualone, and ecstasy.
The sanctuary law also does not prevent the use of city resources in investigating cannabis-related crimes or cannabis-related actions that are illegal under federal, state, and city laws.
Berkeley has a history of having lenient cannabis laws. Voters passed the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative in 1979, which initiative called for the Berkeley Police Department to give the lowest priority to cannabis-related arrests. Then in 2008, the Berkeley City Council declared the city a sanctuary for patients using medical cannabis.
It is also worth noting that when voters in California paved the way for the legalization of recreational cannabis in November 2016, with Proposition 64 getting an approval rate of 57% across the state, the support was so much higher in Berkeley, with 83% of voters supporting the measure.