Legal States Can Breathe a Sigh of Relief Following AG Candidate William Barr's Cannabis Pledge

William Barr - President Trump's pick to replace Jeff Sessions as the US attorney general - has doubled-down on his commitment to take a hands-off approach to cannabis consumers and companies in states that have legalized marijuana use. After telling lawmakers that he wouldn't pursue a crackdown on state-legalized cannabis markets during his confirmation hearings, Barr has released a 247-page document that includes a pledge to let state legal marijuana business continue to operate without fear of federal prosecution.

"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era guidance that instructed the Department of Justice not to interfere with cannabis businesses that comply with state law and was rescinded by Sessions last year.

However, Barr also said that he would not as of yet be prepared to formally replace the Cole Memo with new marijuana guidances, but that he would look in to it if he becomes attorney general.

"I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

Barr also stated in the document that he would also help researchers pursue much-needed research on medical marijuana, even though he still doesn't "support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."

"I support the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law," he wrote in response to a question from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). "If confirmed, I will review the matter and take appropriate steps."

This document signals that Barr will take a markedly different approach to cannabis than his predecessor Sessions, who repeatedly threatened to prosecute marijuana businesses in legal states. And while it may not be as strongly pro-cannabis as we would like to see, advocates are pleased with the progress and hopeful for the future of drug reform in America.

"It's positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins - Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance - told Forbes. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."

And if nothing else, Barr's commitment to expanding cannabis research could result in the federal government finally recognizing medical marijuana as medicine, which 33 states have already done. 

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For cannabis enthusiasts living in adult use states, long gone are the days of sneaking around with a dime bag in a coat pocket and worrying about whether the neighbors know you’ve got weed. But the sad truth is that, for millions of Americans living in prohibition or restrictive medical-only states, accessing safe and regulated cannabis is still a problem. But does that mean that those living without access to the regulated market are abstaining from cannabis altogether?

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