“I’m not going to go after companies that rely on the Cole Memorandum”
Yesterday on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, offered some hope for the cannabis industry. He stated he would not target cannabis companies in states where the plant is legal. However, he also stated that he supports a federal law prohibiting its use.
The conflicting testimony came on Day 2 of confirmation hearings. Following Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) statement that he disagreed with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo because it likely disrupted existing industries, Barr replied: “I’m not going to go after companies that rely on the Cole Memorandum,” Barr said.
The Cole Memo, formulated by the Obama administration, was issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013. It stated that, due to a shortage of resources, states that had “legalized marijuana in some form and … implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana” would not be subject to enforcement of federal law. But in 2018, Sessions rescinded the memo.
Barr stated: “To the extent that people are complying with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that.” Medical and recreational cannabis are currently still illegal on the federal level.
Despite Barr’s promise that he would not interfere with states that have enacted laws that allow viable cannabis programs and industries, he is still an opponent of cannabis. He described states that have legal cannabis laws on the books “a backdoor nullification of federal law.” In that regard, he supports new federal legislation. “If we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there and get there in the right way,” he said.
However, Barr stated his firm opposition to cannabis legalization saying it’s a mistake to “back off.”
“I think the current situation is untenable,” he said, calling state legalization a “backdoor nullification of federal law.” Barr stated the need for a “federal law that prohibits marijuana, everywhere, which I would support, myself.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Barr’s record. As deputy attorney general from 1990 to 1991 and attorney general from 1991 to 1993, Barr strongly backed more punitive laws that escalated the war on drugs. In 1992 he said: “There is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets.” Barr called for more prisons across the country, ignoring the fact that federal prisons locks up mostly drug offenders.
When asked about racial disparities in U.S. prisons in 1992, Barr scoffed: “Our system is fair and does not treat people differently.”