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  • A man smells marijuana buds in a Los Angeles dispensary.

    A man smells marijuana buds in a Los Angeles dispensary. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 April 2017

Defying the White House, the proposed bill protecting marijuana users resembles sanctuary city laws protecting immigrants.

In the face of threats from Washington to step up federal drug law enforcement, California – which voted last November to legalize recreational cannabis – could adopt a state law that would turn the Golden State into a safe haven for marijuana users.

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The law bears a striking resemblance to sanctuary city legislation preventing California state and local law enforcement from collaborating with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.

Long prohibited by federal authorities, 28 states across the U.S. have legalized marijuana use for either medicinal or recreational purposes. Civil liberties advocates have hailed legalization as a crucial pillar of criminal justice reforms meant to curb the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people due to cannabis-related offenses, while legislators have also been pleasantly surprised by the economic stimulus provided by the weed industry.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Jeff Sessions – the top cop in the United States – has voiced his tough stance on the plant, equating its use with an addiction to heroin and telling Virginia law enforcement officers that smoking pot and injecting black tar are both “life-wrecking” dependencies. Last year, the 70-year-old former senator from Alabama drew widespread mockery after expressing the antiquated view that “good people don't smoke marijuana,” which in his mind is “a very real danger.”

According to medical journal Alcohol and Drug Dependence, hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average in states where prescriptions for medical cannabis were available.

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California's proposed law could provide a shield against federal harassment of state residents who enjoy eating, smoking, vaporizing or otherwise ingesting marijuana products.

The proposed law, Assembly Bill 1578, would prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from assisting any federal crackdown on legal marijuana growers or dispensaries. The ban would disallow money, personnel, or facilities from being used to assist federal agents who are investigating, detaining, arresting or reporting those who are involved in any form of lawful cannabis-related activity, be it commercial, non-commercial, or of a medical nature.

The law would also protect Californians from ever having to worry about being handed over to federal authorities by state or local officers or having their personal information – for example, their license for a cannabis growing operation – passed over to federal agents.

Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer, the leading sponsor of the bill, says that the legislation is necessary for protecting “one of the greatest businesses in California.”

However, not all Californians are looking forward to the prospect of greener pastures ahead.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, also the president of the California State Sheriff's Association, has complained to the Los Angeles Times that he feels the bill is “quite offensive” and that lawmakers in Sacramento “want to direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”

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