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Berkeley Declares Itself a Cannabis Sanctuary City

Cannabis Sanctuary City
Berkeley police officers, who are now legally prevented from assisting federal agents to prosecute legal cannabis, before an April protest.
Photo Wikimedia Commons


Berkeley Declares Itself a Cannabis Sanctuary City

Berkeley, California appears to be the first city in the nation to officially prohibit city employees from cooperating with federal action against the city’s legal cannabis industry.

In Tuesday, the city council in Berkeley, California voted to officially become a cannabis sanctuary city for recreational marijuana.

The move came in response to fears that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could take legal action against states with adult-use cannabis following his revocation of the Cole Memo in January, despite overwhelming backlash from both Congress and the American public.

“Without guidelines as to how the federal government will or will not engage with cannabis-related businesses, there is increased confusion about the legal risk of entering the newly regulated market in the state of California,” read the council’s resolution. “Increased federal enforcement of marijuana will have serious social and economic consequences. Uncertainty about potential enforcement and or enforcement itself may force established medical and adult-use cannabis-related businesses to close or move underground, which could impede the development of the newly regulated market and threaten public safety.”

By making itself a cannabis sanctuary city, Berkeley prohibited city agencies and staff from using municipal resources to assist in the enforcement of federal marijuana law or provide any information on the city’s legal permitted cannabis businesses, which includes three of the oldest dispensaries in the country and many recently permitted manufacturers.

In the resolution, the council noted since the adoption of the city’s 1979 ballot initiative, Berkeley has recognized the harmful impacts of prosecuting marijuana users. Since 1979, this law has instructed the city government to support all efforts towards the reform of marijuana laws and directs the Berkeley Police Department to give the lowest priority to the enforcement of marijuana law.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín creates a cannabis sanctuary city

The Feb. 13 resolution went on to note the council explicitly supported the cannabis industry against the federal government in 2008, when the Department of Justice began the now-failed proceedings against Berkeley Patients Group.

On January 1, when legal adult sales kicked off in California, Berkeley’s Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke with Cannabis Now about the city continuing to lead on the cannabis issue. Arreguín called that historic day a result of years of advocacy.

“Berkeley has always been at the forefront of cannabis reform,” said Arreguín, while noting his excitement the day had finally arrived. “We’re blazing a path to a new future in California.”

Sabrina Fendrick, the government relations director at the dispensary Berkeley Patients Group, was pleased to see the city continue its longstanding support for legal marijuana. “We’re thrilled to see the city taking this step in publicly supporting the cannabis industry in Berkeley,” she told Cannabis Now.

When asked whether she thought this was a bigger move than the city’s previous legal support for the industry, Fendrick noted, ”It’s sort of more symbolic than legal. Those were more deliberate actions to support the industry, this is more of a public statement of support.”

In Sacramento, the California Cannabis Industry Association backed the move by the city council.

“Again, Berkeley leads the nation in protecting the will of the California voter!” CCIA Communications and Outreach Director Josh Drayton told Cannabis Now in an email.

Drayton went on to congratulate Berkeley on being the first city in the county to take action.

“With the recent threats of a crackdown on California’s voter-supported adult-use cannabis industry by AG Sessions and the DOJ, Berkeley has become the first city in the country to declare their right as a sanctuary city for adult-use cannabis,” Drayton wrote.

Berkeley also voted on a tax ordinance that would see the local tax rate for cannabis purchases drop to 5 percent, but the city council will have to vote again in two weeks in order for the discount to take effect.

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