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Could Massachusetts Become The First Sanctuary State For Marijuana?

Massachusetts could become the first state to ban local law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities trying to enforce national marijuana laws
Robert Bukaty/AP

Two state representatives are looking to make Massachusetts the first state that officially prohibits its state and local police departments from helping federal agencies enforce national marijuana laws.  

State, Boston and Worcester police have already said they won't assist in federal investigations targeting marijuana businesses protected under state law. The legislation filed in the House last week by Reps. Mike Connolly and Dave Rodgers would mandate every municipal police force, sheriff office, and regional task force to abide by the same policy.

This comes after the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said he would prosecute people under national marijuana law if their case justified the use of his office's resources, setting off a wave of panic among the nascent industry here.

The legislation deals with state cooperation on two fronts — it bans logistical support from local police agencies and limits the amount of cooperation public offices can have with federal agencies.

The bill prohibits state agencies from turning over documents related to legal recreational and medical dispensaries and businesses serving marijuana products unless forced by a federal court order.

The law is the legal manifestation of differing ideologies held by Massachusetts' state government and the current federal administration, an example of the inherent tension contained within a federalist system, according to WGBH's Legal Analyst Daniel Medwed.

"We've been battling over federalism ... since the dawn of the republic," said Medwed. "But I think it's really reached a heightened state because of the unprecedented gulf between the electorate and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the policies of our federal government."

Medwed says he sees a parallel in this legislation's tactics to how so-called sanctuary cities are resisting the Trump Administration's ramped-up immigration enforcement. In cities across the state, law enforcement is not permitted to hold a person for federal immigration agents if that person hasn't committed a serious crime — something the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled is supported by state law. Medwed says that this legislation is informed by the same mindset.

"When you can't take out federal policy as a matter of law, go after it in practice by failing to comply. Undermine it. That's the sanctuary city model," Medwed said.

To listen to the full conversation, click the audio link above.


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