Despite pushback from law enforcement groups, the California Assembly late Thursday night moved forward with a bill to prevent state and local police from assisting with federal enforcement of cannabis laws.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), argued that the legislation is necessary to protect the state’s legal cannabis system from the Trump administration, which has threatened to step up enforcement of federal prohibition. But critics warned that failing to cooperate with federal drug agents would put local police in “harm’s way.”
The legislation, Assembly Bill 1578, squeaked through the Assembly on a 41–33 vote. It now heads to the Senate.
Some Republican lawmakers blasted the measure, which many have compared to the so-called “sanctuary state” bill advancing through the Legislature. That measure would prohibit police from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officials. Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), called the proposal “insanity.”
“This is a complete violation of federal law,” he argued on the Assembly floor. “The hubris of California Democrats believing they can flout federal law on immigration and drug policy is beyond words.”
In a post about the measure, however, the constitutional law publication Tenth Amendment Center explained the legal grounding for the bill. “Provisions withdrawing state and local enforcement of federal law in AB1578 rest on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine,” the center wrote. “Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program.”
Others worried the bill could prevent the detection of illegal cannabis activity within the state’s legal market. The bill specifies that it’s meant to protect only Californians complying with state law, but Jones-Sawyer said he would be open to revising the bill’s wording to clarify that cooperation would be allowed when state laws are violated. There are about 1,400 illegally operating dispensaries in Los Angeles, Jones-Sawyer added, that he himself would like to see shut down.
The goal of AB 1578, explained Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), the bill’s co-author, is to ensure that law-abiding individuals don’t have to fear California law enforcement over conduct that the state has legalized.
“People who are compliant with California law and operate within the legal cannabis market should not have to fear that a state or local agency will participate in efforts to punish or incarcerate them for activity that the state and its voters have deemed legal,” he said.
Other legal cannabis states, such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, are also considering legislation aimed at protecting state-legal cannabis from federal interference. A Colorado measure would allow adult-use cannabis businesses to immediately reclassify themselves as medical marijuana businesses to take advantage of limited federal protection under the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, a congressional spending provision that bans federal prosecutors from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the California Assembly also approved a bill that would merge rules from the state’s medical marijuana laws with those from Proposition 64, which voters passed in November to legalize cannabis for adult use:
That bill, which also now goes to the Senate for consideration, allows medical cannabis facilities that are for-profit, bans pot billboards on interstate and state highways, requires state licenses after officials determine recreational-use businesses comply with local ordinances, and provides $3 million to the California Highway Patrol for developing drugged-driving enforcement plans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the Assembly vote. It was 41–33, not 41–32.