Sessions doesn’t strike fear in their hearts

Last week’s announcement by United States attorney general on federal marijuana policy gets a big yawn locally

When the top federal prosecutor warned last week that he would no longer follow the previous presidential administration’s policy on marijuana enforcement, cannabis advocates and local leaders in Long Beach and Signal Hill both acknowledged the announcement wouldn’t really change the day-to-day life in these cities.

In a statement released Jan. 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rollback of a policy dating back to former President Barack Obama’s administration. Sessions’s new policy allows more discretion for federal prosecutors to tackle marijuana cases, even in states where voters have chosen to legalize marijuana.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a Department of Justice press release issued last week. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

The Signal Tribune asked Jason Aula, a former candidate for Signal Hill City Council and current cannabis advocate, if anyone he knows is running scared at the possibility of a new federal crackdown on marijuana businesses.

“I highly doubt it,” Aula said in a phone interview. However, he did note the number of new investors in the cannabis industry in recent years now that local laws allow more for-profit companies to enter into the market. “So, there are a lot of new players that may be scared,” he said, adding that Sessions’s announcement may slow down those investments.

When Aula ran for Signal Hill City Council in 2017, he knew that both medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries had always been illegal in his town.

In an email to the Signal Tribune, Signal Hill City Manager Charlie Honeycutt acknowledged that since those businesses have been prohibited, the federal announcement surrounding a change in policy on marijuana wouldn’t affect the city.

Long Beach took a different approach soon after California voters passed Prop. 64, a state law that effectively allows recreational marijuana and provides a framework for regulating the cannabis industry.

In 2016, Long Beach voters passed two local measures that together regulate and tax marijuana businesses, and last year, the City started issuing business licenses to medical-marijuana dispensaries as owners completed a rigorous application process.

Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin acknowledged in a phone interview that his city will continue its business as usual, despite the announcement by Sessions.

“And we’re trying to implement in a difficult area where, certainly, I would have preferred having some clarity and direction between both the federal and state government before we start regulating these things,” Parkin said, but he acknowledged that Long Beach won’t be making any changes. “This is a policy question for our council, but we certainly haven’t gotten any direction from our city council to change course. And we certainly wouldn’t recommend to them any change of course with the medical-marijuana initiative as it was approved by our voters at this time.”

The announcement from Sessions didn’t frighten Joe Grumbine, a cannabis-rights advocate who, years ago, ran an illegal dispensary in Long Beach. The Signal Tribune asked Grumbine in a phone interview whether anyone in his circle feared the announcement.

“I frankly don’t find it any more daunting today than it was, you know, six months ago,” he said of the cannabis industry.

He emphasized that while voters passed state laws that favor the cannabis industry, the federal prosecutors and judges in the federal courts have never wavered in their stance on marijuana.

“The law hasn’t changed,” he concluded. “The federal law is the same as it’s always been.”

Grumbine faced his own legal headaches in Long Beach. He said his dispensary in the city was raided in 2009, and he was even convicted in 2011 for selling marijuana illegally. Grumbine said that an appellate court overturned the jury verdict in 2014, and the prosecution thereafter dropped his case.

These days, he sells hemp-based skin-care products– from Riverside County. He is also the CEO of The Human Solution, an advocacy group for those who need to know their legal rights.

He acknowledged that more state lawmakers have been taking a firmer stand on behalf of the cannabis industry. Grumbine compared how California regularly defied federal direction surrounding immigration and described how the State could defend the fledgling businesses.

“It wouldn’t be the first time California defied the feds,” Grumbine said with a laugh.

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