While most of United States Attorney General William Barr’s job has been dealing with the controversial Mueller Report, his comments about marijuana legalization may hint at the near future of weed in the U.S. On April 10, Barr sat before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to discuss the budget for the Department of Justice.
During the questioning, Barr was asked about how his office would be dealing with marijuana going forward. “Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana,” Barr said during the hearing. “But if there is not sufficient consensus to obtain that then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can, you know, make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law. So we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law.”
The question, which came from Alaskan Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose question had to do with his position on the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.
The STATES Act
Originally proposed by pro-weed 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren, the bill would give each state the ability to formally make up their own laws and regulations with marijuana. The bill, which would also give states the right to ban the plant, has found some bipartisan support in Congress, with many Republicans supporting the bill.
Barr is the top law enforcement official in the U.S. and took over the role from Jeff Sessions earlier this year. Barr was a huge supporter of The War on Drugs when he was previously the Attorney General during 1991 – 1993, when he worked for President George H. W. Bush, and helped enact many of those laws. Just a week before Barr’s comments, a top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, wrote a letter to the Democratic majority to pass the bill.
“The legal status of cannabis in the United States is in disarray. It is incumbent on Congress to clarify these issues and reform our federal laws," Collins wrote in the letter. “More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medicinal and/or recreational use of cannabis… Given that the substance is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, this conflicting patchwork of state and federal laws has created a unique set of legal challenges.”
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz also co-signed the letter, which has seen conservative support due to the bill’s support of states’ rights. "We believe this Committee and this Congress must act to clarify the rights and responsibilities, relative to cannabis, of individuals, physicians, businesses, medical patients, and law enforcement officials," they wrote in the letter.
"We support the STATES Act, which was recently re-introduced in the 116th Congress, and we urge you to promptly hold a legislative hearing on legislative solutions that will resolve the confusion surrounding the legality of cannabis in the United States."
Still, Barr is the top law enforcement official in the United States, meaning he has the power to make things a lot more difficult for cannabis. His office is currently looking into the STATES Act and he has yet to say anything more on the subject.
Barr went on in the hearing that he will most likely support the bill if passed as he would “much rather [go with] the approach taken by the STATES Act than where we currently are.” However, there is still one looming figure over marijuana in America - President Donald Trump.
The Effect On Immigrants
His most recent comments about cannabis came when his administration said that immigrants who are caught using the drug can be denied citizenship, even in legal states, due to their “lack of moral character.”
The day before April 20, The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a guidance that laid out some guidelines for officials to take into account. "The policy guidance … clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws,” the guidance states.
These guidelines apply to all states, including ones that have medical, recreational or decriminalized weed laws. Many immigrant rights groups are against the policy, as it keeps immigrants from taking work in the cannabis industry, which is booming in some states.
In regards to the complications for immigrants and marijuana, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sent a letter to A.G. Barr last month asking for clarification and possible adjustments to the policy that basically doesn’t allow immigrants to be involved in the cannabis industry at all. In the letter to Barr, Hancock wrote:
While Barr did not personally reply to Hancock, the new set of policies from the Trump Administration set a clear message that immigrants involved with marijuana in any way will most likely face consequences. Still, Barr’s current actions toward marijuana have not been as harsh as his former boss, Jeff Sessions.
Remember Jeff Sessions?
Sessions was firmly against cannabis and even went as far as rescinding multiple Obama-era policies that were initiated to help ease cannabis legalization. The policies that were put in place were in response to states like Colorado passing recreational use to keep “non-interference” of the federal laws that still consider marijuana a schedule 1 drug, one of the most severe classifications.
One of the policies that was retracted was the 2013 Cole Memorandum, made by United States Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. The memo, which was sent to all U.S. Attorneys, told them that the federal government would not be pursuing the federal prohibition of marijuana and would let states make their own regulations and policies if they choose to legalize it.
Sessions rescinded this policy in January 2018 and two others, making it easier for federal law enforcement to preside over cannabis issues. Barr hasn’t done anything like that yet, but he has only been in office for about four months. While his comments haven’t triggered a marijuana emergency, Barr has the power to make legalization become out of reach.