Attorney General Barr wants to tackle cannabis prohibition

Barr says that by eliminating the federal government from the situation, states can implement their own cannabis policies

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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If you feel perplexed by the current situation surrounding America’s pot laws, you’re not the only one. A growing number of U.S. states are legalizing the plant either for medical purposes, recreational purposes or both.

This has stirred up confusion amongst the cannabis community, due to the fact that the plant remains illegal at the federal level, in spite of relaxed laws regarding its sale and consumption.

Since Attorney General William Barr replaced former cannabis opponent Jeff sessions, it seems as though the U.S. is making progress to change the federal classification of cannabis. He recently told Congress that he finds the current situation “intolerable.” He made it clear that he was fed up of the federal government getting in the way as more states legalize cannabis.

A.G. William Barr testified to tackle cannabis prohibition

On April 10, Attorney General William Barr testified at the Senate appropriations subcommittee, where he declared that he is in favor of a more lenient approach to cannabis laws in the U.S. He revealed that he wants cannabis to be legalized across the nation, as opposed to letting states legalize the plant and ignore the restrictions that come with federal prohibition.

Barr recently attended the Justice Department’s fiscal year 2020 budget request meeting, during which he was asked if he could confirm what the government’s role was in imposing cannabis drug laws in U.S. states that have already legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes.

Before he could respond, Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had already asked him another question about the conflict that separates federal and state laws, to which he replied that by eliminating the federal government from the scenario, states can implement their own cannabis policies.

The STATES Act would safeguard businesses

Senator Murkowski sponsors the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. He is joined by 37 other bipartisan members of the House and Senate, most of whom became co-sponsors after the Bill was recently reintroduced Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Businesses that operate in compliance with cannabis laws in particular states would effectively be shielded from federal intervention.

“I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are,” Barr said. “Personally I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana, 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 make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law, so we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law.”

At the current time, the Justice Department is busy reviewing the STATES Act, according to Barr. On the other hand, Barr has not taken it upon himself to investigate the proposed measure and is still eagerly awaiting comments from the DOJ review.

“Once we get those comments, we’ll be able to work with you on any concerns about the STATES law,” said Barr. “But I would much rather that approach—the approach taken by the STATES Act—than where we currently are.”

Department of Justice won’t interfere with legal cannabis businesses

Barr’s opinion on the subject resonates with the statements that he provided at his confirmation hearings.  On more than one occasion, he affirmed that he would not prosecute cannabis businesses, so long as they are operating in accordance with state laws. Is further clarifies that Barr, along with the Department of Justice, will not disrupt businesses in the legal cannabis space; good news for the U.S. cannabis community as a whole.

“A strong and steadily growing majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and an even stronger majority believe the federal government should respect state legalization laws,” said the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, Steve Hawkins, in a statement. “This is an idea whose time has come, which is evidenced by it being echoed by officials at the highest levels of government.”