U.S. Attorney General William Barr has declared that permitting states to legalize cannabis at a federal level would be preferable to the current “intolerable” situation.
The Cole Memorandum previously shielded states that have legalized marijuana against federal enforcement, but Jeff Sessions rescinded the memo in Jan. 2018. That decision threatened to send federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to crack down on cannabis possession, distribution and cultivation of marijuana in the 33 states that have legalized it.
Barr finds this conflict between state and federal law unbearable and he told a Senate appropriations hearing today that his personal preference would be one uniform federal law against cannabis. “But if there is not sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law and so we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law,” he said.
Barr was responding to questions from Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski about the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, a bipartisan bill filed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer and David Joyce last week.
He said he is yet to read through it, but he has sent it to the Justice Department for comment, and when he gets a response he will address any concerns about the STATES Act.
Sen. Brian Schatz asked him about cannabis firms that were founded after Session’s rescinded the Cole memo. He said he has some difficult choices to make and that it is “an open question” regarding whether they will be treated the same way as those operating before Jan. 2018. Barr added that he would like to see Congress tackle this issue.
He said he is also working hard on authorizing more cannabis producers at a federal level.
The STATES Act aims to amend the Controlled Substances Act to limit the action federal prosecutors can take against individuals and companies in states where cannabis is legal for medicinal and/or adult use purposes. It had 26 initial cosponsors – 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats – and Blumenauer claims House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is very sympathetic to the issue it seeks to address.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado called it “a mainstream, federalism approach to a conflict that must be resolved”.