Attorney General William Barr publicly stated that he supports federal laws prohibiting cannabis, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana,” Barr told a Senate Appropriations committee on Wednesday, according to Newsweek. "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, you know, make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law.”
Barr made the statement after being questioned by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski about the recently-introduced STATES Act. Murkowski’s state legalized recreational weed in 2015, and the bill’s lead sponsors, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), both represent states with legal weed programs.
Under the STATES Act, the federal government would be — ahem — barred from interfering with state-legal weed programs. That would mean so long as medical cannabis patients and retail weed shops remain compliant with state laws, the feds can’t use tax funds to go after them.
Essentially, the STATES Act would (sort of) legalize weed at the federal level. Last summer, President Trump said he’d sign the bill if Congress approved it.
In previous weeks, the media lauded Barr’s appointment to the US Department of Justice as good news for the cannabis legalization movement. During his confirmation hearings, he said he would respect the Cole memorandum, an Obama-era guideline that kept federal law enforcement out of legal weed states.
But Barr’s recent statements illustrate that his position on cannabis is otherwise identical to Jeff Sessions', who resigned last year over internal conflicts related to the FBI’s now-closed Russia probe. Sessions rescinded the Cole memo during his first few months in office.
Like Barr, Sessions said the Attorney General’s job is to enforce the law as it’s currently written. If Americans no longer support prohibition, “Congress should pass a law to change the rule,” Sessions told the US Senate in 2017.
Currently, the federal government can’t mess with medical marijuana patients in legal states due to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, formerly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. The amendment protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. But since it’s been attached as a rider to Congress’s annual spending bills, it risks being omitted from future budget plans.
Although the Trump Administration has largely left legal cannabis alone, agencies under the administration’s direction have quietly exploited federal weed laws to deny citizenship to legal immigrants and to block indigenous tribes from opening pot businesses on tribal lands.
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