After a few months of wait-and-see, the Senate finally confirmed who the new attorney general is: William Barr.
Barr was designated after winning with 54-45 votes from Senators, yet, his stance with cannabis remains to be seen. Naturally, we are all afraid of having someone who views cannabis in the same way that previous AG Jeff Sessions did.
However, last month, Barr made it public that his “approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations and the reliant interests that have arisen as a result of the Cole memorandum.”
“I’m not going to go after companies that rely on the Cole Memorandum,” he said.
So while he said he would respect state cannabis laws, Barr also still supports criminalization of cannabis at the federal level. Using a hands-off approach despite the federally illegal status of cannabis is certainly still better than having Sessions on board. “I think it’s a mistake to back off on marijuana,” Barr said last month. “However, if we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there and let’s get there right away.”
Barr even put his pledge in writing, after several senators sent him written questions about his statement. He also supports increasing the number of legal growers in order to study cannabis for research, and acknowledged that the recent Farm Bill, which legalized hemp, has several implications when it comes to cannabis sales. “Products derived from hemp, including CBD, are therefore subject to different legal and regulatory restrictions than those derived from non-hemp marijuana plants under certain circumstances,” he said, when asked about the Farm Bill. He also made a pledge that he would “look into” the many pending scientific and medical analysis of CBD, since any positive outcomes from these would increase the chances that it would be removed or at least rescheduled from the Controlled Substances Act.
“As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum”, Barr writes. “I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like,” he wrote, responding to a query from Sen. Cory Booker. “If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration.”
Even if Barr has said that he wouldn’t be chasing down companies and individuals being protected by the Cole memo, he did condemn similar policies. “An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law,” said Barr, responding to a question given by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana.”
Erik Altieri, Executive Director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), believes that the stance Barr is currently taking could be a positive development, but it is no assurance that he will be walking the talk. “It’s encouraging but we do need to remain vigilant to keep him to hold his word to the American people,” Altieri disclosed to CBSN.
Altieri believes that lawmakers should take advantage of the fact that cannabis is widely being supported by American citizens, and that Congress should take matters into their hands by ensuring that the federal government acknowledges state legislation. “There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube on this one. The American people want to end our failed prohibition and any attempts to really slow that down or stop it will be incredibly unpopular across all party lines and demographics,” explained Altieri.
Others agree. “It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings,” said Drug Policy Alliance director of national affairs, Michael Collins. “My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition.”
There’s no way to be sure how Barr will be playing out his next moves in the coming months. So far, his comments make us hopeful at best.
Post first appeared on cannabis.net