Since the Trump Administration took over the White House, things have been a little unstable when it comes to how prosecutors are supposed to handle the conflict between federal and state law on marijuana. Under the previous administration things were guided by the Cole Memo, which protected businesses that were operating in compliance with all state laws. However, it was only a year ago when then-AG Jeff Sessions rescinded the memo, removing some of the only federal documentation protecting the legal cannabis industry.
Now that Sessions is out, it is time for a more permanent replacement to step in – and it appears that nominee William Barr might not be such a bad choice. He has confirmed in written responses to questions from U.S. Senators that he would not continue to push against legalization if he were confirmed.
“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Memorandum,” he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.
“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 in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration.”
Barr’s opinion on cannabis may not be entirely in support of legalization, but he does appear to be on board with helping the government to create a more sensible policy to cooperate with states, rather than work against them on this issue. Personal feelings aside, Barr is willing to ensure that state-legal cannabis businesses can continue to operate without fear of federal interference – and he appears willing to work with Congress to come up with proper legislation to handle these issues.
“It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition.”
While we don’t know for sure that Barr is the next Attorney General under the Trump Administration, at least we now know that it wouldn’t be something that should bring concern to the industry in the way that Sessions did. In fact, it appears that there is a chance that things could be even more progressive on amending federal law to compliment – rather than conflict – with state laws.