WASHINGTON, D.C. – In testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination hearing to become Attorney General of the United States, William Barr stated that he will not “go after” states that have legalized cannabis. However, he did indicate that he was uncomfortable with the current situation in which the DOJ takes a hands-off position, essentially “cutting deals” with states in violation of federal law.
Barr also said he would support a federal law prohibiting cannabis entirely. “I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole Memorandum,” he said. “However, we either should have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support myself because I think it’s a mistake to back off marijuana.”
Later in the hearing, in response to a question from Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) whether he intends to target cannabis-legal states for prosecution, Barr reiterated, “To the extent people are complying with the state laws in production and distribution and so forth, we’re not going to go after that. I do feel we can’t stay in the current situation, because… you can imagine any [similar] situation. Can an existing administration and attorney general start cutting deals with states to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to apply the federal law?’ Some gun laws or other things. ‘We’re not going to apply it in your state?’”
Barr was cut off by Harris, who again asked the nominee if he was committed to not spending limited DOJ resources going after cannabis companies in legal states.
“That’s right,” he responded, “but I think the Congress of the United States… it’s incumbent upon congress to make a decision as to whether we’re going to have a federal system… because this is breeding disrespect for federal law.”
“I agree with that,” responded Harris. “We should act.” Harris is a co-sponsor of The Marijuana Justice Act, which was introduced last year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
The exchange with Harris took place at approximately 3:30pm ET. Today’s hearing is expected to last into the evening. A second panel will take place tomorrow featuring testimony from nine witnesses who will speak to Barr’s experience and character. If nominated, Barr, who previously served as attorney general from 1991-93 during Bush I, will take over for Jeff Sessions, who was fired by President Trump in November. Matthew Whitaker has been the acting AG in the interim.