How Cities Can Take a Stand on Cannabis
Harborside Health Center CEO Steve DeAngelo at his marijuana dispensary on the day California legalized pot. DeAngelo has faced battles with federal prosecutors over his Oakland dispensary before. Terry Chea/AP
With a recent policy change from Jeff Sessions, localities may again be more vulnerable to federal crackdowns. But some of the pioneers of pot legalization have been through this before.
The state of marijuana’s legality in the U.S. is, to put it mildly, a hot mess. It’s a thick tangle of conflicting rules, with states, cities, and the federal government each creating and trying to carry out their own laws.
Some states have legalized marijuana explicitly for medical use, others for both medical and recreational purposes. Because so many jurisdictions can claim to have the ultimate say in the way pot is legislated in a given area, it can be difficult to understand where the lines around it are drawn.
For the last few years, states have had a measure of protection under an Obama directive to federal prosecutors that essentially told them to back off in states that had legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medical purposes. But last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made marijuana’s status even more opaque, declaring that the Justice Department would rescind that directive, but offering little guidance beyond that. He said in a memo announcing the change that federal laws “reflect Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”
Now, officials and those in the marijuana business are potentially facing new risk of legal action. But some cities and dispensary owners are prepared to protect their legalization plans from going up in smoke.
It isn’t the first time that pioneers of the marijuana movement have faced this threat. In the earlier years of the