California legislators passed two bills in defiance of the federal prohibition on marijuana and other drugs this week.
First, on Thursday, the state Assembly approved a measure that would prevent local police from assisting federal law enforcement agents in actions against marijuana activity that is legal under state law.
Even as a growing number of states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana and the federal government largely dialed down interference during the second term of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration has in some cases sought to go after people complying with state cannabis laws. And local law enforcement officials have sometimes been involved in resulting raids and arrests.
That would not be allowed if the California bill is enacted, leaving the U.S. Justice Department to enforce federal law entirely on its own.
The bill “ensures that our limited local and state resources are not spent on federal marijuana enforcement against individuals and entities that are in compliance with our laws,” Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, said during a floor debate, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D) added, “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.”
Law enforcement has lobbied strenuously against the legislation, AB 1578, suggesting that it could hamper their ability to conduct and assist in investigations that might uncover marijuana or other drug activity that is not legal in California.
And the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which supported Proposition 64, the voter-approved measure that made marijuana legal in California last November, also came out against the so-called “sanctuary state” bill.
“Local authorities often work with federal agencies on investigations that may uncover both state and federal violations, such as money laundering, diverting marijuana out of state for sales, and environmental damage from outdoor pot farms,” the board wrote. “The Jones-Sawyer bill would likely bar such cooperation if the target of the investigation is a licensed cannabis business in California. But just because an entity is licensed doesn’t mean it is following the law.”
The vote in favor was 41 to 33.
Also on Thursday, the Assembly voted 41 to 33 to approve a separate bill to permit facilities where people can consume illegal drugs in spaces supervised by trained medical professionals.
So-called safe injection sites have seen success in Canada, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. Studies indicate that they reduce overdoses as well as transmission of HIV and hepatitis. They also increase access to drug treatment services.
The bill, AB 186 would create a pilot program that allows cities and towns to permit the facilities, and provides state legal protection to operators and staff.
“California is blazing a new trail toward a policy on drug addiction and abuse that treats it as the medical issue and public health challenge that it is, and not as a moral failing,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, said in a press release sent by the Drug Policy Alliance. “We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it – to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives.”
The Assembly’s action marks the first time in U.S. history that a legislative body has approved such a bill. The city of San Francisco recently created a task force to explore allowing supervised consumption services.
Both bills now head to the Senate and, if approved there, to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).