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Californias Crash-Course With Feds Over Legalization

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By Bill Weinberg

When California legalized cannabis on January 1, it opened the door to multiple conflicts with the federal government. Now, state and federal authorities must manage to negotiate the overlapping jurisdictions with now completely contradictory policies. These policies leave California on a crash-course with feds over legalization. If nothing else, the resulting debates and problems will be interesting to watch.

Checkpoint Searches

The Associated Press notes that state legalization won’t stop federal agents from seizing even small quantities of bud at checkpoints they maintain on the Golden State’s busy freeways.

“Prior to Jan. 1, it’s going to be the same after Jan. 1, because nothing changed on our end,” said Ryan Yamasaki, an assistant chief of the Border Patrol‘s San Diego sector. “If you’re a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws.”

Border Patrol maintains the checkpoints up to 100 miles from the Mexican border. They are considered a final line of defense against smugglers and undocumented migrants who elude agents at the actual crossings. But they also snare U.S. citizens carrying even personal quantities of the herb that California has just legalized. About 40 percent of marijuana seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from 2013 to 2016 was just an ounce or less from U.S. citizens. The new state law allows anyone 21 or over to hold up to an ounce.

The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the international line. They have an additional 100 “tactical” stops, at rotating locations further into California territory.

The AP account included no reaction from state officials on what essentially amounts to federal bottlenecking of California law. But this is an obvious recipe for tensions between Sacramento and Washington, D.C., leaving California on crash-course with feds over legalization.

Dilemma For Organized Labor

Another impending conflict concerns plans by organized labor to unionize California’s cannabis workforce.

The Palm Springs Desert Sun reports that the Teamsters have formed a joint committee of their Northern and Southern California councils to work with the cannabis industry, while the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union already has a Cannabis Workers Rising Campaign that has lead to the UFCW representing thousands of cannabis-sector employees across the U.S. since its beginnings in 2010.

“Tens of thousands of jobs will be created in California as part of this industry, and we want them to be good jobs and Teamster jobs,” Rome Aloise, president of the Teamsters joint council for Northern California recently said in a newsletter. California already has over 100,000 legal cannabis workers, with the number expected to increase fast.

The Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), which will regulate the cannabis sector in California, requires all businesses with over 20 employees to enter labor agreements. In Los Angeles, the threshold is lower still, at 10 workers.

But federal immigration laws will mean an obstacle to unionization of the “trimmigrants.”

These are often young, seasonal workers who come to California from around the world to harvest and trim cannabis plants. They are frequently in the U.S. on student or other visas that do not allow employment. They can only get work permits by applying through the federal Department of Homeland Security. And of course, with cannabis still illegal under federal law, Homeland Security wouldn’t consider any such permits.

Final Hit: California On Crash-Course With Feds Over Legalization
This is the same dilemma as that posed by the ecological impacts of cannabis cultivation. The problem is real enough. But with the EPA refusing to regulate on the basis of the herb’s illegality, the feds are standing in the way of progress. Similarly, labor abuses of the trimmigrant workforce cannot be meaningfully addressed as long as union representation isn’t an option.

These dilemmas are putting California on a crash-course with feds over legalization. But it could provide the impetus for cannabis advocates to join with immigrant advocates and organized labor to press the federal government to finally get on the side of progress where the herb is concerned.

Original Publication in High Times