City of Berkeley Becomes First in the U.S. to Grant Sanctuary to Cannabis Users, Businesses and Landlords

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Office of Mayor Jesse Arreguin


February 14, 2018

Contact: Karina Ioffee


(Berkeley, CA) – The City of Berkeley has become the first city in the country to grant sanctuary to adult users of cannabis, businesses selling the product, and property owners where dispensaries and other cannabis-related business are located, Mayor Jesse Arreguin announced Wednesday. The decision means that no city department, agency, officer or employee can use city funds to assist in the enforcement of federal laws surrounding cannabis.

“Millions of peaceful Americans have been fined, arrested, imprisoned, or otherwise needlessly criminalized and stigmatized, sometimes for life, because of their use of marijuana,” said Mayor Arreguin. “This War on Drugs has cost over $1 trillion dollars and turned the U.S. into a nation of mass incarceration — imprisoning 2 million American citizens. Worse, the enforcement of marijuana and other drug laws has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. Ending this misguided policy is long overdue.”

Berkeley’s sanctuary law does not cover other substances considered Title I drugs by the federal government nor prevent city resources from being used to investigate cannabis-related crimes which are illegal under both federal, state and city laws.

The City of Berkeley has had a long commitment to reforming marijuana laws. In 1979, voters passed the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, which called for the city government to support all efforts towards the reform of marijuana laws, and directed the Berkeley Police Department to give the lowest priority to the enforcement of marijuana laws. In 2008, the Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution declaring the city a sanctuary for medical cannabis patients and providers, and opposing attempts by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries. Most recently, in 2016, 83 percent of Berkeley voters and 57 percent of Californians voted in favor of Proposition 64, a statewide ballot initiative to legalize adult recreational cannabis for those over 21 years old.

The new cannabis sanctuary law is in response to the federal government’s recent announcement that it is rescinding Obama-era guidelines that prioritized enforcement to those involved in selling cannabis to minors, or when marijuana activity was used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity. The change has resulted in greater uncertainty for law-abiding cannabis and hampers the newly regulated cannabis market –expected to generate $1 billion in annual tax revenue statewide, and $3 million in Berkeley alone.


Jesse Arreguin