In the midst of a Senate confirmation hearing, we have a new potential attorney general – and one with a history of coming down hard on drug offenders. So everyone in the industry has the same question on their minds: What will William Barr mean for cannabis?
Once upon a time, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the number one opponent of legal cannabis in the United States.
After taking his post in January of 2018, he essentially tore up the Cole Memo, an Obama-era guidance that instructed the Department of Justice not to enforce federal prohibition in states that chose to legalize and regulate cannabis. This apparent change in policy left a great deal of anxiety in the markets.
When Sessions was ousted last November, he lost all of his power to hold back the fastest-growing industry on the planet. And that was something worth celebrating.
However, since that time, there has been an air of uncertainty. The acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, did not have a history of commenting on cannabis in any capacity.
Now, in the midst of a Senate confirmation hearing, we have a new potential attorney general – and one with a history of coming down hard on drug offenders. So everyone in the industry has the same question on their minds:
What will William Barr mean for cannabis?
A Promising Response
During the confirmation hearing, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) questioned Barr directly on whether he believed it is “an appropriate use of resources” for the Justice Department to target legal cannabis businesses.
Barr’s response was reassuring: He stated that his approach “would be not to upset settled expectations and the reliant interests that have arisen as a result of the Cole Memorandum,” and he promised that he is “not going to go after” cannabis companies in states with legal markets.
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Notably for our members here at the National Institute for Cannabis Investors, part of Barr’s reasoning was that “investments have been made.” This attorney general hopeful is basically communicating that there is simply too much money in the cannabis sector for the Justice Department to interfere.
Barr also stated his belief that we need to fix federal cannabis laws “the right way,” earning the praise of Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO). The senator tweeted that the need to properly address these laws is exactly why he introduced the STATES Act.
As you might remember, the STATES Act would – among other things – instruct the federal government to stay completely out of states’ business when it comes to cannabis and amend the Controlled Substances Act to prevent it being used against any person or company complying with state laws.
When I met with National Institute for Cannabis Investors Founding Advisory Board Member John Vardaman earlier this week, he had a lot to say about Barr and the STATES Act in 2019, too.
Our Final Take on Barr
During our interview, John took the time to comment on Barr’s confirmation hearing.
“The message and the tenor coming from [Barr] was about as much as the industry could hope for,” he told me. “It was a recognition that states and individuals that have entered this industry have done so in reliance upon state law and federal policy, and that he was going to continue to respect that.”
We think John hit the nail on the head. You might hear a lot of negativity about Barr, and that’s largely because a lot of dreamers out there were hoping for an attorney general who would wave a magic wand over cannabis laws.
But when it comes down to it, this is just what passes for bad news these days: A politician saying he’ll respect state laws.
We’ll take it.
Another politician has had a lot to say about the outlook of legalization in the U.S. recently. When we had a chance to sit down with Former Speaker John Boehner, he handed down a shocking prediction that federal marijuana prohibition could end completely – and much sooner than you might expect.
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Executive Director, National Institute for Cannabis Investors
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