7 March 2017
Sanctuary States … from Federal Marijuana Enforcement?
By Ryan McCoy on March 7, 2017
POSTED IN FEDERAL – STATE LAW CONFLICT
Seyfarth Synopsis: In response to recent comments from senior members of the Trump Administration, lawmakers are exploring novel ways to protect the burgeoning marijuana industry (and the many jobs that it is projected to create) in states where it is legal, including legislation that would prevent state and local agencies from using state resources to assist federal enforcement efforts.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s recent comments caught the attention of state lawmakers and marijuana business owners across the country when he said that he expected “greater enforcement” of federal anti-drug laws. Following Mr. Spicer’s lead, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quoted at his first on-the-record briefing as saying, “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people are smoking pot,” and “I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana.”
These comments from senior members of the Trump Administration have increased concern within the marijuana industry and for lawmakers in the eight states where marijuana has been legalized. Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, who represents the state where recreational marijuana use was first legalized, stated, “These comments leave doubt and uncertainty for the marijuana industry, stifling job growth in our state.”
In response, state lawmakers are beginning to explore novel approaches to protect citizens, businesses, and jobs from the consequences of a potential federal crackdown on the marijuana industry.
In California, lawmakers proposed an assembly bill that would effectively declare California as a sanctuary state from federal marijuana enforcement, similar to the so-called “sanctuary cities” that do not assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. If passed and signed into law, this bill would prevent state and local agencies from using resources to help federal authorities crack down on marijuana consumers or businesses operating legally under California law. Readers will note that this proposed bill is largely symbolic, as the federal government would not normally need the help or resources of state or local governments to go after marijuana businesses or consumers.
In Nevada, State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford instructed his state’s attorney general to make it “immediately clear that he will vigorously defend Nevada’s recreational marijuana laws from federal overreach.”
At the federal level, 14 Members of Congress, including three California representatives, have also introduced legislation—entitled the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017—to prevent the U.S. Justice Department from pursuing marijuana cases in states where marijuana is legal.
These efforts are motivated not only by a desire to protect citizens engaging in legal marijuana use (at least so far as the state is concerned) from potentially renewed federal law enforcement, but also to protect the growing marijuana industry estimated to be worth more than $6 billion currently, and expanding to an estimated $50 billion industry by 2026.
Enforcing federal laws in states where marijuana is legal may also have unintended consequences for a growing job market. Indeed, Forbes recently reported that the legal cannabis market is projected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020; according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is more than the expected jobs to be created in manufacturing, utilities, or government over the same period. It would stand to reason that strictly enforcing federal anti-drug laws in states where marijuana is legal would potentially stifle this job growth, which many would agree would be a buzzkill.