Berkeley to consider resolution to become a sanctuary city for marijuana

Zahira Chaudhry/Staff

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Marijuana enforcement has never been high on Berkeley’s priority list, but now City Council will discuss a formal resolution to declare Berkeley a sanctuary city for adult-use cannabis at its regular Tuesday meeting.

This resolution comes from Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Cheryl Davila and will be discussed in light of recent federal enforcement against the recreational sale of marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era Department of Justice memo that indicated that the enforcement and regulation of marijuana should be left to state and local governments.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” Sessions said in January.

The city is making this recommendation because the federal government’s decision to rescind the previous memo on marijuana is “something we do not agree with nor have we ever,” said Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who co-signed the resolution.

Bartlett said he thinks the federal government is rolling back the clock on marijuana regulation and enforcement, stating that what Berkeley is doing now is standing up for states’ rights and the continuation of the city’s pre-existing values.

Bartlett noted the number of states that have already legalized marijuana and said he hopes that if the resolution passes, Berkeley will be a model to encourage the federal government to “come to reason and accept the will of the people.”

“Berkeley was the first (medical marijuana) sanctuary city in the nation, the first marijuana dispensary license-granting city in the country,” Bartlett added.

Sabrina Fendrick, director of government affairs at Berkeley Patients Group, one of the longest-running dispensaries in the country, said that while she does not feel that business for marijuana dispensaries would be affected if Berkeley became a sanctuary city for marijuana, she said she feels very excited about the resolution.

Fendrick said she is grateful that Berkeley is supportive of the marijuana business and protective of the industry.

Fendrick added that this is merely a “resolution, not an actual ordinance, not a changing of law, (but) more a directive.” She says she believes it will provide guidance to city management and bolster City Council support for law enforcement and other city employees so they do not have to work with the federal government on issues regarding cannabis.

Since 1979, city laws have directed Berkeley police to give their lowest priority to the enforcement of marijuana laws, meaning virtually no one in Berkeley is cited or arrested.

With this resolution, Fendrick said Berkeley is “continuing its tradition of progressive policies in the face of adversity.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.