President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general fielded questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 15.

A 22-member committee grilled William Barr for over seven hours, asking for his thoughts on a number of issues facing the government. His comments about marijuana during his confirmation hearing caused the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) to fall over 3%. Prominent marijuana producers like Cronos Group Inc. (CRON) and Canopy Growth Corp. (CGC) ended the day lower.

Relief for Marijuana States

If Barr is confirmed as the successor to Matthew Whitaker, the former Attorney General to George H.W. Bush said his Justice Department will “not go after” marijuana companies that operate in states where the drug has been legalized.

The nominee said he disagreed with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum in January 2018. Instead, Barr vowed to uphold the directive issued under the Obama administration that instructed U.S. attorneys to protect state-legal marijuana businesses, arguing that not doing so would harm firms that have already invested money.

“I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole memoranda,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “My approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations.”

Congress Must Make Up Its Mind

Barr also questioned the logic of marijuana being legal in several states yet illegal according to federal law. A decision must be made by Congress on which way to go, he added, after likening state legalization to a “backdoor nullification of federal law.”

“I think the current situation is untenable,” said Barr. “If we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there and get there in the right way.”

Opposed to Legalization

Marijuana companies will be relieved that Barr is willing to leave state-legal marijuana alone and came across as a more open-minded figure than Sessions. The Alabama-based politician was very critical of cannabis, once likening it to a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

However, that doesn’t mean that Barr thinks the drug should be legalized. While discussing the lack of transparency regarding marijuana laws, the attorney general nominee mentioned that he personally would support a federal law that prohibits the drug. 

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