Officials in Massachusetts, which legalized recreational pot by ballot in 2016, want to make theirs the latest sanctuary state for marijuana, setting up a potential clash with federal authorities, who have hinted at a looming crackdown on legal weed later this year.
Using language common among immigration advocates and sanctuary cities, state and local officials in Massachusetts reiterated their support for state pot laws and affirmed that they won’t assist federal authorities with weed busts.
On Wednesday, Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, who oversees the state police, also expressed his support in an interview with the Boston Herald.
“We have a state law that we’re intending to enforce, and the state law was voted on by the people of Massachusetts,” he said. “We have no intention of raiding a pot shop that is legal under state law.”
The Boston Police Department echoed his statement.
“Similar to our position on immigration, the BPD will not actively enforce federal marijuana laws at the local level,” police spokesperson Detective Lt. Michael McCarthy told the Herald. “We will continue to enforce local drug laws to keep our neighborhoods safe.”
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling was more taciturn in a statement Monday, saying he could not “provide assurance that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution.”
“This is a straightforward rule of law issue,” he said. “Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do.”
Massachusetts' declaration is just one step in a larger legal conversation playing out across the country following a Jan. 4 announcement that the Justice Department intends to roll back Obama-era guidelines shielding states and businesses with legal weed from most federal prosecution.
States are blazing on, however. On Wednesday, Vermont’s legislature voted to legalize recreational marijuana in a bill that’s widely expected to be signed into law, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has vowed to protect his state’s fledgling recreational marijuana system, which kicked off sales on Jan. 1.
“In California, we decided it was best to regulate, not criminalize, cannabis,” Becerra said in a statement earlier this month. “We intend to vigorously enforce our state’s laws and protect our state’s interests.”
And with recreational marijuana legal in eight states plus the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana legal in 29 states and D.C., the reefer madness is only just kicking off.