William Barr, the new Attorney General for the Trump administration, indicated support for a pending federal marijuana legalization bill during an appearance before Congress on Wednesday. Responding to a question from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska about the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Barr said that the contradiction of a federal ban on cannabis while it has been legalized in some form in a majority of the states should not continue.
“The situation that I think is intolerable and which I’m opposed to is the current situation we’re in, and I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are,” Barr said, according to a press release from cannabis reform advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project. “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.”
If passed, the bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that it is no longer applicable to statutes “relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of” cannabis for activities that comply with state law. The bill was originally submitted to Congress in 2016 and was reintroduced by a bipartisan coalition of legislators last week.
DOJ Reviewing Bill
Barr told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee at his appearance on Wednesday that while he had not yet examined the STATES Act personally, the legislation had been distributed in the Department of Justice for comment.
“Once we get those comments, we’ll be able to work with you on any concerns about the STATES law,” Barr said. “But I would much rather that approach – the approach taken by the STATES Act – than where we currently are.”
In contrast to his predecessor Jeff Sessions, Barr repeatedly said that he would not interfere with cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law. Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, applauded Barr’s support for the bill.
“We are pleased to hear the attorney general would prefer the approach taken by the STATES Act rather than maintaining the current status quo,” Hawkins said. “There is growing consensus that Congress needs to take action to ease the current tension between federal and state marijuana laws. As an organization, we have been working for years to change state marijuana laws, and we believe it is critical that the federal government respect those reforms.”
Hawkins added that federal policy on cannabis should be representative of public opinion.
“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,” he said. “This is an idea whose time has come, which is evidenced by it being echoed by officials at the highest levels of government.”