Attorney General Nom William Barr Says He Won’t Go After Legal Pot

By Kelly Burch 01/17/19

Despite the fact that Barr would respect state laws in regards to marijuana, some drug policy advocates argued that he should not be made attorney general.

Attorney General nominee William Barr
Attorney General nominee William Barr Photo via YouTube

As the Senate conducted confirmation hearings with President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, most questions were focused on how William Barr would steer investigations into possible collusion between the administration and Russia.

However, during the confirmation hearings, Barr discussed the need for changing marijuana laws and said that he would not go after states that allow the legal sale of cannabis, a marked change in policy from that of previous Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

“I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole memoranda,” Barr said during the hearings, according to Rolling Stone. “My approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations.”

The Cole Memorandum was signed in 2013 under President Obama. In it, United States Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole directed federal attorneys not to prosecute marijuana crimes in states that had legalized use. In essence, the memo meant that the federal ban on marijuana would not be enforced in states that had laws legalizing cannabis. However, the memo was rescinded last year by Sessions, who took a hardline stance on cannabis and wanted to stop recreational use in the states. 

During his hearing, Barr said that it is time for the country to have a more consistent marijuana policy. 

“I think the current situation is untenable,” he said. It's almost like a “backdoor nullification of federal law. . . . We should either have a federal law that prohibits marijuana, everywhere, which I would support, myself. . . . If we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there. And lets get there the right way.”

Despite the fact that Barr would respect state laws in regards to marijuana, some drug policy advocates argued that he should not be made attorney general. Barr, in the past, has made statements against criminal justice reform and in favor of mandatory minimums that can hurt people with substance use disorder, the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release

“Trump is appointing someone who has long been a cheerleader for mass incarceration and the war on drugs. It shows the Administration’s true colors and undermines any recent criminal justice reforms,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “Senators from both parties should take Barr to task for his appalling views on drug policy and criminal justice, instead of giving him an easy ride like they did with Jeff Sessions.”  

During the hearings, Barr did acknowledge that strict enforcement of policies, like those he previously supported, "harmed the black community,” according to USA Today

No matter what the outcome of the confirmation hearings, it seems likely that Barr’s policy on drug enforcement and cannabis will be overshadowed by his perspectives on the Mueller investigation, however. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.