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Days After Pot Legalization, California Fights Federal Threat

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Shortly after recreational marijuana became legal in California, the Trump administration is moving to enforce the federal ban on the drug.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that blocked U.S. attorneys from interfering with marijuana sales in states where the drug is legal.

That means top federal prosecutors will be able to take action against recreational or medical marijuana grows regardless of state law.

Lawmakers are already planning to fight back.

“To me, it’s similar to how we’ve stood up for and fought for and defended our immigrants in the wake of a federal administration that wants to engage in a full frontal assault,” said Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who co-authored the 2015 state law that created the state's first-ever medical marijuana regulations. 

He said they’ll likely push for a marijuana sanctuary bill, which would ban California law enforcement from cooperating with federal marijuana investigations. A version of it stalled in the Senate last year.

Democratic Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer voiced his support for the bill in a statement, and said he was working with Gov. Jerry Brown's office to move it forward. 

Brown's office declined comment when asked about the Sessions announcement. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he’s determined to move forward as planned with cannabis regulation.

"We've got a system in place to provide a way in which you can grow, sell, or posess marijuana in a legitimate way," he said. "That's the architecture that we needed to put in place, that we now enforce, and that system is now something we have to make work. That's what we should focus on."

The federal marijuana ban has already placed some roadblocks in California’s efforts. Banks are hesitant to handle cannabis money because they fear legal repercussions, so transactions are being conducted cash-only.

McGregor Scott, a former U.S. attorney under George W. Bush, was recently sworn in as the new prosecutor for the Eastern District of California, stretching from the Oregon border to Kern County. Scott prosecuted several marijuana cases during his tenure.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Assemblymember Bonta as one of the authors of California’s adult-use marijuana law. In fact, he co-authored the 2015 state law that created the state's first-ever medical marijuana regulations.

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