United States: Berkeley, California declares itself a sanctuary city for recreational cannabis

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Friday, February 16, 2018

On Tuesday, the city council of Berkeley, California adopted by unanimous vote a resolution declaring their city a "sanctuary" for adult recreational cannabis use and sale. The resolution by the Berkeley council "declared [the City of Berkeley] to be a sanctuary for recreational cannabis customers, providers, and landlords."

The resolution bars city employees including police from assisting federal law enforcement officials, namely the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in enforcing federal laws relating to cannabis. The city's measure includes protection for cannabis, but not other substances controlled and regulated by the federal government. California voters approved a referendum in 2016 that legalized cannabis production and sale in the state. That law took effect on January 1 this year.

The resolution was drafted by Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Cheryl Davila.

While cannabis became legal for adults at least 21 years old under California state law, it remains a prohibited substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Under the U.S. Constitution, federal law is given supremacy to contradictory state and local law.

In 2008, the city previously declared itself a sanctuary city for medical cannabis, opposing federal officials seeking to shutter legal-in-California cannabis dispensaries.

In a tweet following the vote, the Berkeley mayor wrote, "In light of threats by Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions regarding a misguided crackdown on our democratic decision to legalize recreational cannabis, we have become what may be the first city in the country to declare ourselves a sanctuary city for cannabis." The attorney general is the top federal law enforcement official in the U.S.

Last month, Sessions repealed a policy from the previous presidential administration providing legal shelter to states that legalized recreational cannabis. A January 4 memo from Sessions called for Justice Department prosecutors to enforce the federal ban on cannabis use and sale.

By another vote during the same meeting the city council reduced the sales tax on cannabis from 10 percent to 5 percent in a bid to draw more business.