The Trump administration is turning over a new leaf concerning the cannabis culture in the United States, and that may begin under the guidance of a new Attorney General, William Barr. During his confirmation hearings, Barr said he would not go for the jugular of the cannabis industry like his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, did while overseeing the Department of Justice. Instead, Barr told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that “to the extent people are complying with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that.”
Barr, who has yet to be confirmed as attorney general, has since put his promise in writing. The gist of his pledge is to reiterate that he has no plans to target cannabis operations compliant with states laws.
“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.
The Cole memo, as it is often referred, was a non-binding guidance issued by the Obama administration that gave states the freedom to experiment with marijuana legalization with little federal interference. The memo had been in effect for several years up until former AG Sessions trashed it at the beginning of 2018. For many members of the cannabis trade, this was a sign that a crackdown on legal marijuana was coming, and everyone had sort of grown comfortable with the idea that weed was mostly overlooked by the government started abandoning ship.
In the end, a marijuana crackdown never came. It was all just psychological warfare Sessions used to discourage the cannabis movement from making strides while he was holding the reins.
But Barr’s approach will be to leave legal cannabis alone. Although he has not yet said whether he intends to replace the Cole memo with an updated initiative, Barr wants to cannabis trade to know he was no intention of upsetting what is now underway in over half the states in the nation.
“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. “If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration.”
Still, temporary memos promising to keep out of state legal marijuana businesses can only go so far.
Barr is no friend of marijuana, and, as he stated during his confirmation hearing, he believes “we should…have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere.” Yet, his main gripe is not states legalizing the leaf, it’s that Congress is dragging its feet on the issue. “If we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, let’s get there and let’s get there the right way,” he said, suggesting a move needed to be made to legalize nationwide.
All this really means is that, if Barr is confirmed, the Department of Justice is not likely to target members of the cannabis industry that adhere to policies outlined by their respective states. This reassurance, however, could create some peace of mind for banks and other non-cannabis-related operations concerned about potential prosecutions for dealing with the pot trade.
Still, the only real way to protect the cannabis industry is for Congress to come together in 2019 and bring state and federal pot laws more in line with each other. Until this happens, there will always be an opportunity for the gates of hell to be opened. The only solace, at this time, is that the key will not be turned by William Barr.