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Bill Would Curb Cooperation Between Law Enforcement, Feds On Marijuana Cases

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Marijuana found in a South Sacramento pot house September 2013.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

As California ushers in a new chapter with legal recreational marijuana, it's unclear what, if any, enforcement action will come from federal agencies. 

But here's how Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr. describes the state's stance when it comes to working with federal agencies to crack down on illicit marijuana:

"Our doors are wide open for DEA, Attorney General and any other federal agencies to come in and close the illegal grows and retailers," says Jones-Sawyer. 

But Jones-Sawyer fears the lawful players will mistakenly get caught up in the Feds' net.

He authored a bill, AB 1578, that would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using their resources "to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report or arrest" someone for marijuana activity that's legal under state law.

Jones-Sawyer points to Los Angeles as a case study. He says there are 1,400 illegal marijuana operations and only 135 legal medical marijuana businesses. 

"It doesn't make any sense to me that we spend any time trying to close down and interfere with local commerce and businesses of the 135 when we should focus like a laser and get rid of all the 1400 illegal ones."

The bill narrowly passed in the Assembly and now moves to the Senate.

Cory Salzillo is Legislative Director with the California State Sheriff's Association, an organization that opposes the bill. He says it's not simple to make a clean separation between the good and bad players in the marijuana space.

Salzillo argues that specific language in the bill could provide protection for a person on the basis that they've applied for a state license to run a commercial marijuana business.

"All you'd have to do is apply for a license and then local law enforcement would be barred from assisting the federal government in any enforcement action that might be going after that person," says Salzillo.

Salzillo says some individuals may be "attempting or purporting to do something legal" but may actually be engaging in behavior that is unlawful under federal law and California law.

In response, Rebecca Nieto, Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer says the bill "prohibits a state or local agency, from using agency resources to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for marijuana activity that is authorized by law in the State of California and transferring an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for marijuana enforcement, unless directed to do so by a court order."

Nieto say the bill does not prevent California law enforcement from pursuing a case or an arrest of a person engaged in illicit marijuana activity in California.  

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