Attorney General William Barr may be many things, but he’s definitely not a die-hard cannabis prohibitionist like his 70-year-old predecessor Jeff Sessions, who infamously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a plant he called “a very real danger” equal to black tar heroin.
In fact, Barr is actually in favor of Congress enacting legislation that would allow states to legalize marijuana rather than pursue the antiquated policies of prohibition as codified by U.S. federal law.
The United States’ top cop said on Wednesday that his Justice Department is currently reviewing draft legislation that would end the conflict between federal and state law while also discussing the department’s approach to marijuana enforcement.
Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (or STATES) Act. The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to extend federal protections to those who comply with state laws legalizing cannabis and would add provisions solidifying states’ rights to determine how the plant is regulated.
Describing the gap between federal and state legislation as “intolerable,” Barr told Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) during a Senate appropriations hearing that, while he would prefer nationwide prohibition, the status quo is untenable.
According to Denver7, Barr said:
“The situation that I think is intolerable and which I’m opposed to is the current situation we’re in, and I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are … Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana 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.”
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use with over 30 states having now followed suit. Ten states, along with Washington, D.C., have freed the herb almost entirely, allowing adults over 21 to partake in the recreational use of cannabis.
Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment:
“We agree wholeheartedly with [Attorney General] Barr—the conflict between federal and state cannabis law has become untenable and must end.”
Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Michael Collins has taken Barr’s comments with a grain of salt while acknowledging that it is “positive that DOJ seems willing to engage on marijuana reform.” However, Collins added that he’s “reluctant to value William Barr’s input on marijuana legislation, just as I never valued Jeff Sessions’s input on sentencing reform legislation.”
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center also found that 62 percent of U.S. residents–including 74 percent of millennials–favor an end to the prohibition of cannabis.
Barr’s comments are the latest sign that the Justice Department is unlikely to squander resources on enforcing federal prohibition laws against the legal cannabis industry under his leadership.
While Barr’s assurances fell short of an open rallying cry to “Free the weed,” cannabis advocates greeted his comments warmly.
A number of other pieces of legislation aim to lift prohibitionist policies from marijuana, including the landmark Marijuana Justice Act sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), that seeks to remove marijuana from the federal narcotics list while reversing the damage caused by the war on drugs, which has impacted poor communities of color in a disproportionate manner.