In January of 2017, the City of Berkeley reaffirmed its status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. This past Tuesday, Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to again make Berkeley a sanctuary city, but this time, for recreational cannabis. Mayor Jesse Arreguin tweeted that Berkeley, “may be the first city in the country to declare [itself] a sanctuary city for cannabis.” The resolution was co-sponsored by Mayor Arreguin and Councilmembers Cheryl Davila and Ben Bartlett.
Berkeley's new ordinance specifies that no City “department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the City of Berkeley shall use any City funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of Federal drug laws related to cannabis.” The city will no longer support cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Agency, which it believes infringes upon state and local cannabis laws.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that 75% of Americans supported legalizing marijuana. In November of 2016, Prop 64, the ballot item for legalizing adult recreational cannabis, garnered support from 57% of Californians and 83% of Berkeley residents. With the passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, recreational cannabis consumption is now legal in California.
Despite overwhelming public support, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated an eagerness to clamp down on state legalizations of medicinal and recreational marijuana. In early January of 2018, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era guideline of non-interference with states that decriminalized marijuana usage. Mayor Arreguin tweeted that the resolution was created, “in light of threats by Attorney General Sessions regarding a misguided crackdown on our democratic decision to legalize recreational cannabis.”
The resolution notes that the legalization of marijuana is an “important social justice issue,” as drug criminalization has contributed to the mass incarceration of black and brown communities. Councilmember Bartlett declared that the City, “will not allow the return of Prohibition. It destroys communities of color, thwarts the will of the people, and prevents a healthy economy from manifesting.”
Beyond issues of equity and justice, legalization is incredibly financially beneficial for cities and states. The resolution cites that the legalization of cannabis could yield $1 billion annually in tax revenue for California, and about $3 million annually for Berkeley.
Ultimately, the peaceful, individual consumption of cannabis by adults, over the age of 21, should not be criminalized. Decriminalization prevents the existence of unregulated, underground markets and fosters better public safety and equity. Legal penalties on marijuana consumption promote mass incarceration and often constitute federal overreaching of states' rights. In view of Berkeley's action to establish itself as a sanctuary city for recreational marijuana, hopefully other cities will also work to defend local rights and individual freedom.