On Tuesday, Donald Trump’s pick to head up the U.S. Department of Justice, William Barr, spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barr is Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, a post that has been vacant since Trump fired Jeff Sessions last November. Sessions is a vehement opponent of cannabis legalization, and as Attorney General he repeatedly threatened a federal crackdown on state-legal industries. Interested in how Barr compared to his predecessor, Senators questioned the nominee about his views on marijuana legalization.
Trump’s AG Nominee William Barr Won’t Go After Marijuana Companies
Midway through the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, attorney general nominee William Barr shared some of his opinions on legal marijuana. Speaking about the approach he would take as AG, Barr said he wouldn’t “upset settled expectations. Investments have been made, so there has been reliance.”
In his comments about the legal industry, Barr said he would “not go after” companies operating legally in states where cannabis is legal.
These comments signal that Barr will likely follow the guidelines issued in the Obama-era Cole memo. The Cole memo lays out a policy of non-interference for federal law enforcement. Essentially, it’s a “hands off” policy instructing the federal government to leave state-legal companies and individuals be.
In fact, Barr directly referenced the memo, saying he would “not go after companies that have relied on the Cole memorandum.” Barr’s statements also indicated he disagrees with former AG Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole memo. The nominee said Sessions’ policy reversal created confusion and harmed businesses.
Barr Backs Federal Prohibition, Calls Current Situation “Untenable”
When it comes to federal cannabis legalization, however, Barr shares the views of his predecessor. “I think it’s a mistake to back off on marijuana,” Barr told New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. During his confirmation hearing, Barr called the contradiction between federal and state law on cannabis an “untenable” situation. “It’s almost like a backdoor nullification of federal law,” Barr said.
During Confirmation Hearing, Barr Espoused Debunked Ideas about Drug Enforcement
Continuing the exchange with Sen. Booker, Barr said he personally opposes legalization. He also said that as AG he would support “a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere.” Sen. Booker pushed back, challenging Barr to explain why he opposed bi-partisan legislation to reduce sentences for drug crimes. Barr replied arguing that “when you have violent gangs…sometimes the most readily provable charge is the drug trafficking.” Barr added that with weed charges, “you can be taking out a lot of violent offenders.”
Sen. Booker attempted to stress to Barr that the data did not support his view. He expressed concern that the nominee for the top law enforcement officer in the country would adopt policies encouraging racial discrimination and the hyper-incarceration of black Americans. Barr admitted he had not reviewed the data showing bias and discrimination that Booker cited.
Attorney General Nominee Barr Wants Congress to Pass a Law Resolving the Contradiction Over Marijuana
A half hour later, around 2:45 p.m., the hearing turned toward the topic of marijuana again. This time, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked about federal drug law enforcement. “To the extent that people are complying with the state laws, distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” Barr said.
But, Barr went on to say that “we can’t stay in the current situation.” He then called on Congress to pass a law resolving the ongoing contradiction between federal and state law by clarifying how law enforcement should treat marijuana across the country. Barr provided no details about what such a law might involve.