US Attorney General William Barr's recent investigations of wrongdoing in the cannabis industry were driven by his personal hatred of marijuana, according to a whistleblower in the Department of Justice.
On Wednesday, DOJ employee John Elias testified before Congress that Barr allowed his personal feelings to influence his decision to investigate improper business mergers made by state-legal cannabis businesses. Elias testified that investigations into the cannabis industry occupied 29 percent of the Antitrust Division's merger investigations for all of 2019.
To make matters worse, Elias alleges that Barr did not base his decision to investigate the weed industry “on an antitrust analysis,” but instead launched the probes “because he did not like the nature of their underlying business,” Forbes reports.
"At the direction of Attorney General Barr, the Antitrust Division launched ten full-scale reviews of merger activity taking place in the marijuana, or cannabis, industry,” said Elias in his opening statement. “These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do not meet established criteria for antitrust investigations.”
When asked whether he’d ever seen such an extreme investigation during his DOJ career, Elias responded: “In my experience, which includes 14 years at the Justice Department at many different levels of the Antitrust Division, no, I have never seen anything like that,” according to Marijuana Moment.
The witness also testified that this is “concerning because the investigations and the work of the Antitrust Division need to be done in good faith — they need to be done evenhandedly — both for the sake of everybody involved and for the sake of the public’s perception of the rule of law in that the Justice Department is being aboveboard with everything.”
At the hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) asked Elias if the investigations amounted to “harassment by Bill Barr of an industry he didn’t like.” Elias agreed, saying that he thought “that’s a fair way to characterize it, yes.”
“Barr doesn’t like marijuana,” Rep. Cohen summarized. “Marijuana is seven times more likely to be enforced against young African Americans, breeding discontent with police and breeding interactions with police, and Barr doesn’t care about that type of stuff because he doesn’t like marijuana. That’s one of the breeding grounds of distrust of African Americans and police and police and African American contact and problems. Very unfortunate.”
“The Attorney General’s blatant abuse of his authority to improperly investigate cannabis businesses shows just how important it is to end the federal prohibition of cannabis,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) to Marijuana Moment. “Regardless of Mr. Barr’s own personal feelings, Americans wildly support descheduling cannabis, and it is time our federal laws represented the people’s will.”
The testimony comes as part of a larger investigation into Barr's failure to remain impartial in his role as the country's top prosecutor. Congress also heard testimony alleging that former Trump adviser Roger Stone received preferential treatment due to his close ties to the president. In a separate allegation, Elias also said that Barr launched an investigation into the auto industry immediately after Trump tweeted that he was angry about a recent deal struck between automakers and the state of California.
The allegations come as no surprise given Barr's previous record. During a Congressional hearing last year, the AG testified that he would favor one uniform law prohibiting all forms of cannabis, but would grudgingly accept a law that allowed individual states to legalize weed without federal interference. Barr also just authorized the DEA to target and surveil peaceful protestors following the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
But, even as bad as Barr's personal vendetta against cannabis is, it still doesn't come close to the all-out war on weed launched by his predecessor. Jeff Sessions, Trump's first pick for AG, revoked the Obama Administration's cannabis industry protections, blocked the DEA from approving additional research cannabis growers, constantly repeated anti-pot myths, and tried to convince politicians to allow him to attack state-legal medical marijuana companies.
Trump ousted Sessions late in 2018, and after these investigations, Barr may well be following him out the door (we can only hope...).