During Barr's confirmation hearing earlier today, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) asked William Barr for his opinion on enforcing federal cannabis prohibition in states that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use. Barr said that he does not intend to step up efforts to crack down on legal states.
"My approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations...that have arisen as a result of the Cole Memorandum," Barr said, referring to the Obama-era memo that instructed the Department of Justice not to interfere with cannabis businesses that comply with state law. "There has been reliance on it [that memo]. I don't think it's appropriate to upset that situation. I'm not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole Memorandum."
When asked the same questions minutes later by California Senator Kamala Harris (D), Barr reaffirmed his position not to interfere with legal states. "To the extent that people are complying with state laws with distribution and production and so forth [of cannabis], I don't intend to go after those."
Barr's position is a far cry from his predecessor. During his tenure as Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions repeatedly threatened to launch a crack down on states that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use. So cannabis businesses in the 10 states that have legalized recreational cannabis as well as another 23 that have legalized medical marijuana can breathe a sigh of relief. But they shouldn't look at Barr as an ally.
Barr might not despise cannabis as much as Sessions, but that doesn't mean he supports legalization. During the hearing, Barr called on Congress to clarify federal law so that it no longer conflicts with state laws when it comes to cannabis.
"The current situation is untenable and must be addressed," he said, adding that the conflict on state and national cannabis policy "is breeding disrespect for federal law." So Barr wants the feds to either legalize cannabis across the country or enforce "a law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support because I think it's a mistake."
So if Barr is confirmed, don't expect him to push for the right to sick the DEA on legal states. But if the feds decide to reimpose prohibition in every state, don't expect him to hold the DEA at bay either.