Mixed Messages from Attorney General Nominee Signal Little Appetite for Federal Cannabis Reform
As I type, the Republican-heavy United States Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing sworn testimony from William Barr, a former U.S. Attorney General under the first President Bush, and the second such appointee under embattled President Trump.
Trump’s former AG, weed-hating Keebler Elf reject Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, was forced out of the office after a relatively ineffective two years in the job that stripped him of his cozy role as a southern senator with a silly name only to get humiliated by a Reality TV president and embroiled in national scandal.
At least he was too much of a bumbling failure to interfere in the rapidly growing cannabis reform movement, because his past statements on the subject expressed his contempt for cannabis in no uncertain terms.
Whatever, he’s gone and now we’ve got another red-blooded Republican nominee to replace him who has a history of showing no love for the cannabis plant or for the movement to bring it to the mainstream.
On Day 1 of his two day confirmation hearing process, Mr. Barr was asked bluntly by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) how he would treat the 33 states who have legalized the medical use of cannabis and the 10 that have legalized the adult recreational use of the plant should he be given the job as America’s Top Cop.
“I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on Cole Memorandum,” Barr replied to Booker’s inquiry regarding federal intervention.
The Cole Memo, you may remember, was issued by Obama Deputy Attorney General James Cole and instructed federal prosecutors and states attorneys general no to enforce federal cannabis prohibition in states that "legalized marijuana in some form and ... implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana".
This move provided cover in the formative years of the medical marijuana movement across the country, and by no coincidence in 2014 we saw Colorado and Washington successfully implement what has become a template for 1/5th of the country to reap the rewards of legal recreational weed.
Sessions, hamstrung by lies under oath about Russian contacts and beaten down by bad press due to kids in cages at our southern border, ignorantly rescinded the Cole Memo in 2018 but his neutered tatters of any form of authority were not enough to put the cannabis genie back in the bottle and instead he and his plans for prolonged prohibition have floated away like a tiny elf fart in a tiny breeze.
Ok, so Barr claims to agree with us on that point (maybe not the "elf fart" part, but the rest, surely)
Proving just how high of a priority cannabis is to our Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) followed up with another weed related question for Barr.
“Are you intending to use the limited federal resources at your disposal to enforce federal marijuana laws in the states that have legalized marijuana,” asked Sen. Harris.
Barr contemplatively replied, “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.”
He made sure to restate his own personal opposition to federal cannabis reform, but admitted that the current wedge between the realities of legal weed that we are seeing at the state level and the strict illegality that we see at the federal level is “untenable” and that the current system is a “backdoor nullification of federal law”.
Talk about a mixed message
At his core, Barr seems to be a true Conservative Republican, and so in theory he ought to be highly respectful of states’ rights and his answer to Sen. Booker regarding the Cole Memo reflects that.
But the status quo at the top of our government is not good enough for us anymore, and the cannabis reform movement is now about much more than the ability to grow, sell, and smoke weed. Like any other industry, it demands access to the most basic and fundamental government services, like insurances, banking, and protection from unfair law enforcement. We demand criminal justice reform, expungement, and the freeing of our weed warriors.
Barr, who should sail through his nomination hearings today on his way to a GOP-fueled confirmation, will most likely not be the champion of those causes, especially considering the nuclear grenade he is being setup to fall on for Trump once the Special Counsel releases their report on the president’s laundry list of crimes against the country.
“I will not be bullied,” said Barr heading into this week’s hearings in the nation’s capital.
We’ll see about that, sir, you're about to deal with the biggest bully of them all.