Attorney General William Barr testified Wednesday that he would rather see marijuana legalized nationwide than let states continue to defy federal prohibition.
Speaking during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Mr. Barr told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that conflicting federal and state marijuana laws have created an “intolerable” situation for the Department of Justice.
“I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are,” Mr. Barr told lawmakers. “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.”
President Trump’s attorney general for less than two months, Mr. Barr made the remark in response to a question from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, about bipartisan legislation introduced last week in the House and Senate — the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act of 2019, or STATES Act — that would amend federal law if passed to shield individuals and businesses involved in state-legal marijuana industries.
Marijuana is federally outlawed on account of its status as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, but 33 states have defied that prohibition by legalizing the plant for medicinal purposes, including 10 that have legalized recreational usage among adults.
Passage of the STATES Act would amend the CSA to provide exemptions for “any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration or delivery” of marijuana, effectively restoring protections eroded early last year when Mr. Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era policies contained in Justice Department memorandum known as the “Cole Memo.”
“I am accepting the Cole Memorandum for now, but I have generally left it up to the U.S. Attorneys in each state to determine what the best approach is in that state,” Mr. Barr testified later during the hearing in response to questioning from Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat.
“I haven’t heard any complaints from the states that have legalized marijuana,” the attorney general said.
A total of 38 members of the House and Senate have signed on as co-sponsors since the introduction of the STATES Act on Thursday. One of its co-sponsors in the House, Rep. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, previously said Mr. Trump supports the proposal.
More than 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to the results of separate Gallup and Pew Research Center studies released late last year.