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Attorney General Nominee Wouldn’t Go After Legal Marijuana

William Barr’s reasonable rhetoric on regulated cannabis is a sea change from Jeff Sessions

Attorney General nominee William Barr laughs while testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, . Barr will face questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about his relationship with Trump, his views on executive powers and whether he can fairly oversee the special counsel's Russia investigation. Barr served as attorney general under George H.W. BushSenate Attorney General, Washington, USA - 15 Jan 2019

Attorney General nominee William Barr laughs while testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Trump’s nominee for attorney general said Tuesday that his Department of Justice would not “go after” marijuana businesses in states that have chosen to legalize and regulate the cannabis trade.

Under sharp questioning from Sen Cory Booker (D-N.J.), William Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he personally believes marijuana should remain illegal. But he added: “I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole memoranda” — referring to a DOJ directive issued under the Obama administration instructing U.S. attorneys to give safe harbor to state-legal marijuana businesses. “My approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations,” Barr added.

Barr’s approach aligns with president Trump’s campaign promises from 2016, to leave state-legal marijuana alone. But his comments reflect a sea change from the rhetoric of Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general. The Alabamian had crusaded against pot, rescinding the Cole memo and blasting marijuana as a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

Barr, speaking dispassionately, called on congress to make up its mind on marijuana. “I think the current situation is untenable,” he said, likening state legalization to a “backdoor nullification of federal law.” Barr continued: “We should either have a federal law that prohibits marijuana, everywhere, which I would support, myself.” However, he added: “if we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there. And lets get there the right way.” (There are already several marijuana bills before the new Congress — including HR 420 — that could provide the legal framework Barr suggests.)

Watch the exchange between Barr and Booker below:

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