Berkeley Mayor: California Could Become Marijuana Sanctuary State

March 6, 2018

Berkeley is the first city in the nation to become a sanctuary city for cannabis. Through a city council vote in February the group unanimously voted to prohibit any city agencies to use its resources to assist in enforcing federal marijuana laws. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín explains how this legislation is impacting his city.

"The state of California is actually looking at potentially becoming a sanctuary state for cannabis," says Arreguín. "I think its important that cities and states take a strong stand for states rights."

Recreational marijuana was legalized for adult use in California this past fall. Berkeley's conservative prediction for marijuana sales tax revenue to come in at about $3 Million.


MALE_1: Well. I only heard that cities are interested in passing this legislation but the state of California is actually looking at potentially becoming a sanctuary state for cannabis, just like we're a sanctuary state or enforcement of federal immigration laws. I think it's important that cities and states take a strong stand for states rights. Uh, the Federal Government should not interfere with the right of Berkeley, of the state of California, of the state of Colorado to be able to tax and regulate cannabis. We do know that, um, cannabis still is, uh, a drug under federal law, but many states rapid, rapid union have actually decided that now is the time for decriminalization and taxing regulating to remove the black market, to address the, um, the social impacts that the war on drugs has had on communities of color and to try to, um, level the plain field. So, we're excited to be one of the first cities to be a sanctuary city for enforcement cannabis laws, and that means our police will not be involved and cooperate with the DEA to enforce laws against our cannabis businesses and cannabis users.

FEMALE_1: Have you seen this resolution already impacts some of those in your community?

MALE_1: Well, uh, Berkeley has a long history actually, uh, standing up for, uh, de- decriminalization of cannabis. In 1979, the voters of Berkeley voted to make enforcement of cannabis laws a lowest priority for our police department, and Berkeley was one of the first cities in the United States to actually open dispensaries for medical cannabis. And so, we have a long history of supporting this industry and supporting the decriminalization of cannabis. And certainly since the, the attorney general said that he is going to overturn the whole memo and direction from the Obama administration to not target localities and states around cannabis laws. There's many great deal of concern about what that means for businesses and for patients and for users. Is the federal government going to commence all the other shut down dispensaries? Are they going to arrest people for, uh, for using cannabis? So, I think we want to make it clear that the city of Berkeley is going to be a sanctuary that we're not going to use our taxpayer dollars to enforce, uh, failed war on drugs.

MALE_2: And for recreational marijuana. We know this has recently become legal in your state as of this fall. How are you seeing that actually roll out into the market, uh, and that market, uh, kind of you- your city really accept that market?

MALE_1: We, we just, um, started recreational sales of cannabis on January first. And I was actually at one of our dispensaries at six o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day to, to cut a green ribbon just to launch the, the start of recreational cannabis. And a time when the federal government is passing laws like the trunk tax bill, and it is looking at punishing sanctuary cities, and sanctuary states, and we're going to see a cut in federal funds for essential services and social programs. We need to look at things like cannabis as a new industry that could provide revenue to support important social programs. And so we're seeing a huge green rush that's happening in Berkeley and in the state of California, and it's a question of how we can, um, ensure that those revenues are going to support important services in our communities law enforcement. The need, the, the need for public health programs, affordable housing homelessness. So, um, we expect there be millions of dollars of additional revenue to support important social programs.

FEMALE_1: Yeah. Let's stay on that topic for a second here. In tandem, you've cut the marijuana tax rate in half to five percent. You've estimated it to the low end the sales tax of this could be three million dollars. You cited some of the things you might use that money for. And what about when businesses, or you just trying to lower what this, uh, t- tax rate in half. What would those kind of revenues look like once these companies may see perfectly as more of an attractive place?

MALE_1: It's hard to estimate. Um, but under the 10 percent tax, we estimated that we would get about three million dollars. The reason that we were looking- we looked at lowering taxes, if you look at Colorado, you look at other states that have actually legalized cannabis, they had to, at some point lower taxes, because taxes are so high that they had a negative impact on business. And so, we wanted, we wanted to be able to attract new businesses to Berkeley, um, and to try to, uh, prevent a underground economy from, from, you know, it's holding round. We want to encourage people to purchase marijuana products legally, products are tested, products that are tax. We wanna be able to tax and regulate this industry. So, we are seeing businesses express interest in coming to Berkeley as a result of our, of our action, not just the, the sanctuary vote but also the vote to lower the taxes, and we actually think that this, this action is going to result in, in millions of more dollars, because we're, we're sending a message of Berkeley is open for business.

FEMALE_1: And you, um, not you specifically, but the city of Berkeley, uh, 10 years ago also used this sanctuary approach as it applied to medical marijuana. So, it's sort of continuing in that spirit. But I do want to just reemphasize, what additional protections might this resolution provide to your constituents? Given that California has already legalized marijuana at a recreational level?

MALE_1: Well. You would touch upon the, the, the policy the city adopted over 10 years ago for medical cannabis. Not just made it very clear that our police departments will not be involved in any DEA and forced man action. We're not gonna provide information to the DEA, for the purpose of enforcing federal drug laws. And now that we are, um, in it- in an era where cannabis is decriminalize, and people can purchase it recreationally. I think it's important to make it clear that policy should apply to recreational cannabis as well. As I said, as a result of just sanctions announcement or a month ago, there's a great deal of concern and certainty about what's going to happen next. [OVERLAPPING] And we don't want our city resources to be used to enforce these laws. One thing I want to emphasize is that, this policy does not prohibit our police from working with the DEA for enforcement of any other criminal activity. This is just specific to enforcement of cannabis as a schedule one drug.

FEMALE_1: Okay. And I do, I do appreciate you making that clear because I, I- my question what's going to be for you. Are you not afraid of any retaliation from the federal level as a result of your move here?

MALE_1: Well. There already is a great deal of retaliation by the Trump administration against California. Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions announcements, um, around overturning the whole memo and the, the guidance did not interfere with states on cannabis laws. It's just the latest in an attack by the federal government against the State of California, because we're speaking out, because we're resisting, we're standing up for states rights. And we're gonna continue to do that. We don't know what's going to happen next. But one thing is for sure, our police will not be DEA agents, they will not be shutting down license, establish cannabis businesses, will not going to further the war on drugs, which has resulted in millions of people being- um, being imprisoned and incarcerated for many, many years. Led to a disproportion over black and brown people ending up in our prison system. So, we're not gonna continue that, that policy.

MALE_2: All right. Well, amazing to hear the work that you're doing in Berkeley. Thank you so much for joining us for today. We're going out to leave things there but we appreciate the time Mayor Jesse Arreguin joining us from California. Thanks so much.

MALE_1: Thank you.

FEMALE_1: Thank you again Mayor.