Reps seek state 'sanctuary' protection for marijuana outlets

Garballey cosponsors bill covering medical, recreational

Dave RogersRogers

UPDATED, Jan. 30: Two Cambridge state representatives seek to turn Massachusetts into a sanctuary state for marijuana.

Rep. Dave Rogers, whose district includes Arlington, and Mike Connelly, both Democrats, filed legislation on Friday, Jan. 19, that would prohibit state and local police from participating in federal cases against people or licensed operators who follow state cannabis laws.

Rogers appeared on "Greater Boston" (WGBH-TV, CH2) on Jan. 30 to discuss his bill that would bar state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal officials in cracking down on people engaged in state-sanctioned marijuana business.

Rep. Sean Garballey has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill. The Democrat representing Arlington and West Medford told YourArlington that the legislation gives rise to an important conversation about state's rights as well as sending a message about upholding the will of the voters. Arlington voted in favor of allowing medical and recreational marijuana.

In Arlington, a medical-marijuana dispensary has been proposed for Water Street, though the foundation behind the effort is looking at a Mass. Ave. location. No recreational marijuana outlet has been proposed here, but Rogers has told YourArlington that the bill would cover both kinds.

Rogers told the Globe Friday: "We have a state law, it's valid, and we think it should be respected. "If federal law enforcement has something different in mind, they can use their own resources, because Massachusetts taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to do something that goes against our laws."

The bill responds to the decision earlier this month by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the U.S. government's hands-off marijuana policy and give federal prosecutors discretion to enforce the federal prohibition on the drug, even against state-licensed cannabis operations. Rogers told the Globe the shift in policy is "retrograde and mindless," adding that public opinion heavily favors legalization.

Andrew Lelling, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, has called marijuana a "dangerous drug" and has refused to promise that his office would pursue only illicit dealers. Those remarks brought uncertainty to the marijuana industry, and elected officials, including Governor Baker, said Lelling should focus on the opiate crisis.

The State Police, as well as police departments in Boston, Worcester and other cities, have said they will not assist the federal government with raids on licensed cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The bill would make that policy mandatory for all departments in the state, and would additionally ban workers at other public agencies from turning over records to federal investigators without a court order.

Rogers told the Globe that the measure's political prospects were uncertain, but noted that most of the state's elected officials have opposed the move by Sessions, and that most police departments have "more pressing problems" than marijuana.

Will Luzier, a local activist for the national Marijuana Policy Project who helped lead the campaign for the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in Massachusetts, came up with the idea for the bill.

Called the "Refusal of Complicity Act," the bill takes a cue from "sanctuary city" legislation that some municipalities have enacted to shield undocumented residents from federal immigration authorities. It also echoes the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, a federal Congressional budget rider that prohibits the Department of Justice from expending funds on cases against state-legal medical cannabis operations. A similar proposal is pending in California’s Legislature.

Rogers said his colleagues have up to one week to sign on as cosponsors. State Rep. Sean Garballey has been asked to comment.


Jan. 10, 2018: Selectmen cool to alternative site for medical-marijuana dispensary


This news summary was published Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, and updated Jan. 30.