New AG Not the Same as the Old AG on Weed

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 31, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As you may have noticed, quite a few states have been legalizing weed lately. And as you should be aware, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, illegal under federal drug laws. So how does that work?

For the most part, federal law enforcement decided to take a hands-off approach to state weed regulation. That was until Donald Trump was elected and his new attorney general Jeff Sessions blew all that up. But it appears Trump's selection to replace Sessions, William Barr, differs quite a bit from his predecessor when it comes to federal enforcement of drug laws in legalized states.

Marijuana Memo

It all goes back to the Cole Memorandum -- Obama-era guidance directing the Justice Department to refrain from enforcing the federal prohibition on pot in states that "legalized marijuana in some form and ... implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana." Then-Attorney General Sessions rescinded that guidance last year.

But Barr pledged the opposite during his Senate confirmation hearings, promising to not "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws, and reinforced that commitment in responses sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. "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," Barr wrote, adding, "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 ... If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

Smoking Guns?

While Barr reiterated that he does not support "the wholesale legalization of marijuana," he did commit to more pot research. "I support the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law," Barr wrote. "If confirmed, I will review the matter and take appropriate steps."

Barr's announcement did come as comforting news to those in the legalized cannabiz, but state regulatory structures, and compliance with federal banking laws are still issues the budding pot industry is dealing with. For help with those, or if you've been charged with a marijuana-related offense, contact a local criminal attorney.

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