Marijuana

Attorney General Barr Prefers Marijuana Federalism Over the Current Confusing Mess

"I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions," Barr told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

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Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

Attorney General William Barr says he would prefer marijuana to be illegal everywhere, but if states are going to keep legalizing weed, he thinks the federal government ought to get out of the way.

That's not exactly a rousing endorsement for ending the federal war on marijuana, but it's a newsworthy admission from America's top cop—an acknowledgment that states are going to continue openly defying federal pot prohibition, which puts the Department of Justice in an increasingly untenable situation.

"The situation that I think is intolerable, and which I'm opposed to, is the current situation we're in," Barr told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning. He was responding to a question from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) about the recently reintroduced Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to prevent federal law enforcement from taking action against people and businesses in states that have legalized marijuana. Though Barr said Justice Department officials were still reviewing the bill, he told the committee that allowing states to set pot policy would be an improvement over the status quo.

"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 and so we're not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law," he said.

Barr's comments seem to indicate that he's taking a more realistic approach to the question of state-legal weed than did his predecessor: committed drug warrior Jeff Sessions, who had threatened a crackdown on marijuana businesses in states where weed is legal after rescinding an Obama-era memo that advised federal prosecutors to leave state-legal marijuana businesses alone. During his confirmation hearings, Barr said he would not support such a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses, though he stopped short of promising to re-implement the Obama-era policy.

Barr's comments on Wednesday are also more in line with President Donald Trump's expressed views on the topic. Trump said last year he would "probably" support an earlier version of the STATES Act if it reached his desk—and Barr seems to be echoing that same supportive-but-not-endorsing sentiment.

And that's just fine! If the best the federal government can muster is a promise to stop interfering in state-level marijuana policies, it would be a marked improvement on the past four decades of policy. The biggest winners would be the more than 200,000 Americans who are now working full-time in state-legal marijuana businesses in the 33 states with legal medical marijuana and 10 states where recreational weed is legal. The STATES Act would allow those businesses to access banking systems without running afoul of federal money laundering laws.

The bottom line is that Barr is absolutely correct that current federal marijuana enforcement policy is a complete mess. He's also right to say, as he did later in the hearing on Wednesday, that Congress should fix it—rather than having each new attorney general add to the uncertainty.

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68 responses to “Attorney General Barr Prefers Marijuana Federalism Over the Current Confusing Mess

  1. this is a pleasant surprise as I expected the worst from him on drug warrioring

    1. Weren’t you also surprised earlier today about the removal of federal agencies?

      It’s almost as if there’s a libertarian slant to this administration that no one at Reason wants to admit because ORANGE MAN BAD

      1. They occasionally do some things libertarians can support, with qualifications (SLD is in effect). I don’t know if it quite rises to the level of “libertarian slant” given all of the not so libertarian things they are also doing.

      2. Only a person whose sole experience with and claim to libertarianism is shilling for Trump in Reason.com comments would claim that a handful of happy coincidences constitute a “libertarian slant”.

        Give me a fucking break.

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    3. I can’t help but be amused that the url for this article cuts off the title after the fifth word:

      “Attorney General Barr Prefers Marijuana”

  2. That picture of him makes him look like a jack o’ lantern. Just shapes carved out of a lump.

    1. He looks like the Grinch’s dad.

    2. He looks like the Grinch’s dad.

      1. More like Grimace’s dad.

    3. I saw the Cheshire cat, was expecting Barr to disappear leaving the grin.

  3. Winning

  4. Even if this guy is better on marijuana than we libertarians feared, we should still oppose him because he’s covering up the numerous #TrumpRussia bombshell revelations contained in the Mueller report.

    The walls are closing in. Or at least, they will be once Barr gets out of the way.

    1. If you look at the fine print, Fusion GPS is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Acme Corporation. Beep Beep.

    2. It is painfully obvious that you are not a libertarian.

    3. It is painfully obvious that you are not a libertarian.

    4. It is painfully obvious that you are not a libertarian.

    5. It is painfully obvious that you are not a libertarian.

      1. It’s painfully obvious that you don’t understand that OBL is a parody account.

        1. Poe’s Law strikes again,

  5. You can’t cherry pick criminal laws and exempt whole states all while you prosecute other people for the same conduct. This way cannot be constitutional.

    1. As long as you’re nitpicking about the Constitution, why did they need a constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol on the federal level, but a mere statute to prohibit other drugs on the federal level?

      Perhaps Trump will invoke the international drug treaties? He’s big on internationalism.

      1. Hmm, apparently each state party has to act within its particular constitutional system, so waving the treaty around won’t work even on the treaty’s own terms.

        https://bit.ly/1o9urTY

      2. You can thank the Sup Ct for permitting it.

        1. “It’s not my fault, Your Honor! You judges wouldn’t stop me!”

    2. Which is exactly why he’s telling Congress to make it that way.

      1. The states are drug traffickers under the protection of Trump and Barr.

        1. It’s time to impeach them, so that Anthony Weiner and Eric Holder can serve as President and AG.

          Weiner/Holder!

          1. These states are not only permitting but participating in a federal crime and they get away with it because of political connections. It blows my mind.

            1. That’s Federalism bitch!

        2. They are very much like the mafia now. The law is clear as fucking law. It’s a crime but “our goods friends in the state of Alaska need you (Barr)to look the other way because enforcing the law might cost us votes.”

          1. Which law is “clear as fucking law”? The Tenth Amendment?

    3. ” permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions,”

      Is lawspeak for “get rid of Federal law.”

  6. More good news for us anti-NRA libertarians!

    It’s time we take BIG, BOLD action to #EndGunViolence in America. That’s why I’m the only candidate proposing that we ban and buy back every single assault weapon in this nation.

    As Michael Hihn has repeatedly explained, this proposal is not only defensible from a libertarian POV, but also perfectly Constitutional. And we should listen to him since he’s been active in libertarian politics since before most of us were born.

    1. Hihn doesn’t know fuck-all about the Constitution

    2. well he just lost

      1. Well, it depends on how much he’s offering. $1000 per gun and we could just buy $600 AR-15s, sell them to the Feds and use the money to buy more guns to sell to the Feds. Better yet, slap together ARs from the cheapest parts available for an even higher profit margin. $$$

  7. “That’s not exactly a rousing endorsement for ending the federal war on marijuana”

    But that’s exactly what he is endorsing?

    “During his confirmation hearings, Barr said he would not support such a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses, though he stopped short of promising to re-implement the Obama-era policy.”

    The Nation would like a word: http://www.thenation.com/article/obamas-war-pot/

  8. “I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions”

    What about abortion?

    1. There is that enabling legislation clause in the 14th amendment. But the best thing that would happen with abortion is if the federal government just got out of the whole topic, meaning Roe being overturned, but no federal abortion laws.

  9. It’s a conspiracy. The laws are inconvenient so they don’t enforce them IF you fall under their protection. That’s not the rule of law. It’s one thing to use prosecutorial discretion uniformly without favor but it’s entirely something else to make that protection dependent upon where a person lives. It’s a fucking joke.

    1. The protections of the 10th Amendment shouldn’t depend on a 1-justice margin in a controversial case.

    2. So you are either a parody account, or you are very lost.

      You do know you are posting on Reason, right? I mean if you are going to try to argue the merits of the drug war, you might start by actually having some real points to make other than NOT FAIR!

      1. No, I think he does have a valid point, as much as it pains me to note that.

        The rule of law is only libertarian to the extent that it is applied as fairly as possible. This is the only possible way that a law can be properly evaluated – both from the POV of morality/justice and also from the POV of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (ie. a republic.)

        Any law that requires selective enforcement in order to remain law is a bad law.

    3. Yeah Congress makes criminal law at the federal level and the DOJ enforces those laws. Congress is proposing a statute that exempts any state that has legalized pot from prosecution under federal criminal law by the DOJ. It’s not complicated. They are acting under their legitimate authority. So maybe you could stop blathering like an idiot?

      1. Except that it is complicated. Federal law is not predicated upon state citizenship, it is supposed to apply equally to all.

      2. Congress was not acting under its legitimate authority in passing any law against marijuana, aside from material sold across state lines.

  10. Looks like Reason is going with soft news today.

    Anyway, I was/am skeptical of Barr… but he’s doing pretty good so far. I like that he didn’t back down from the “spied on” characterization regarding surveillance of the Trump campaign.

  11. I’d prefer an AG who’d just come out and say, “10th amendment, federal drug laws are unconstitutional outside of DC and military bases.” but let’s be real: Barr is taking about as good a position as we can expect without changing the whole culture in our federal politics.

    I’ll take what I can get.

    1. Admitted dope smoker Obama had 8 years to get this done. Teatotaler Trump has taken the federalist view from the time he took office but let Sessions run amok because he couldn’t fire the asshole because collusion. So authoritarian literal Hitler gets the credit not because he has a pen and a phone but because he’s making Congress do their job.

    2. The issue isn’t the 10th Amendment, but the whole structure of the Constitution. The federal government was supposed to be limited to enumerated powers. Regulating a plant that was grown and used inside one state was not one of those powers. Neither was regulating a plant that is used by the grower, even if her field and her home were in two different states. And finally, the original meaning of “regulation” did not include “ban” or “destroy”.

  12. certain people should be required to smoke pot.

    1. prosecutors.

      1. Who says they don’t? All we know is they often don’t want other people to do so.

        1. an even-worse-hell … double-hell … for those who embrace the culture and still put people behind bars over it

  13. If he actually wants to let the States handle marijuana, he doesn’t need a bill passed.

    He’s the Attorney General of the United States.

    The Controlled Substances Act gives him unilateral power over moving substances from schedule to schedule, and allows him to remove them entirely after a (non-binding?) hearing, at least in a plain reading of the text.

    He could literally move Marijuana to Schedule V in the time it takes to draft and sign the memo, and remove it entirely as soon as a de minimis hearing process was completed.

    1. True but that would let Congress off the hook. Then they could all stick a finger in the wind and go home and either praise or vilify the good or evil executive. Whichever position produces the most campaign contributions.

      1. Congress already let themselves off the hook when the wrote the law.

        Trump should do what Obama should have done – direct the removal of all cannabinoids from the Schedules.

        Hell, Trump should note that the Controlled Substance act is only Constitutional as it applies to actual interstate trade, and to the extent that it does not then all listed agents should be removed from any form of Federal enforcement.

  14. Well it’s an improvement over throw-away-the-key Sessions. But like Sigivald say, Barr could solve the whole thing with a stroke of the pen. The DEA controls the Schedule and the Attorney General controls the DEA. Most people think the Schedule is controlled by the FDA but not in the U.S. We believe that only the cops can decide if a given chemical can be used for therapeutic purposes. If the system was fair we would let doctors decide whether any given individual could be arrested for a crime. That would make about as much sense.

  15. You all can make fun of Jeff sessions all you want but you all have to admit him and his elves made great cookies.

  16. It’s almost like he doesn’t let his personal opinion cloud his judgement as AG. Another area where Sessions failed, mightily.

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  18. I’ve come around to Barr should maintain his logical position. Time will tell

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  22. Mr. Barr: Please let the gawddammed states decide.

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