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Berkeley’s city council voted unanimously this week to make their town a sanctuary city for marijuana use, which is a headline both noteworthy and utterly unsurprising. (I mean, it’s Berkeley.) Though plenty of cities have done something similar with immigration, refusing to help the federal government with certain aspects of immigration law enforcement, Berkeley is the first to apply the concept to the drug war.


As SFGate reports, the city’s new rule concerns “legal adult-use marijuana, prohibiting city agencies and employees from turning over information on legal cannabis activities and assisting in enforcing federal marijuana laws.” The Berkeley police and other city officials will still cooperate with the feds on criminal matters unrelated to marijuana use.

This move may seem silly at first glance, probably because historically we think of sanctuary as a very serious practice with roots in the Old Testament and medieval church life, while pot is seen as a frivolous issue, the fodder of Cheech & Chong comedies.

But the only thing that’s really ridiculous is how Washington’s war on drugs made this necessary in the first place. Berkeley would not be doing this if our federal government would end its failed drug prohibition.

By waging the drug war, Washington has claimed authority to criminalize personal choices the Constitution gives it no authority to regulate. All the City of Berkeley has done is announced it won’t help the feds fight this inhumane, expensive, unconstitutional and clearly losing battle. There’s nothing silly about that.

The merit in Berkeley’s stand becomes even more obvious when we think about the concept of sanctuary cities. Let’s use as our example kidnapping, which is one of relatively few crimes subject to federal enforcement. (Most crimes are prosecuted at the state level.)

There is no such thing as a sanctuary city for kidnappers, and there never will be. That’s because kidnapping has not been legalized in a growing number of states with broad national support. It’s also because kidnapping is a real crime with real victims, an act we all agree is appropriate for government to deter and punish. The same cannot be said of marijuana use.

A “wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement,” Thomas Jefferson said in his first inaugural address. The federal drug war, including the pot prohibition Berkeley is fighting with this new sanctuary city rule, stands in direct opposition to the defense of limited government and individual liberty Jefferson articulated.

There are lots of good reasons not to use marijuana, but that choice is none of Washington’s business. Berkeley is right to refuse to help the feds violate its residents’ rights.

RARE POV: How Jeff Sessions’ war on marijuana hurts victims of the opioid epidemic

Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at www.bonniekristian.com or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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