U.S. attorney general nominee William Barr said during a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that he would not target marijuana businesses that are operating in compliance with state laws that allow them, whether for medical or recreational purposes.
If confirmed, Barr said his “approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations and the reliant interests that have arisen as a result of the Cole memorandum.” He later added that he “is not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole memorandum.”
The Cole memorandum was issued in 2013 by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and provided marijuana enforcement guidance to U.S. attorneys. It stated that the Justice Department would not enforce federal marijuana prohibition laws in states that have legalized marijuana for adult or medical use as long as certain federal priorities are addressed, such as preventing interstate trafficking and sales to minors.
Barr also expressed frustration with the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, calling the current situation “untenable.”
“We are pleased to hear Mr. Barr intends to respect state marijuana laws if he is confirmed as our next attorney general”, says Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “His reference to the Cole memo suggests that he will maintain the policy of non-interference that has existed since August 2013. This is not only a sensible decision, but is one supported by a vast majority of Americans.”
Hawkins continues; “We are also sympathetic to Mr. Barr’s call for a more consistent federal approach, provided it is one that respects the will of the people. To that end, it is time for Congress to pass a law that either removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act or formally exempts state-legal cannabis activity from its provisions.”