President Trump reached back to the first Bush administration for his replacement for Jeff Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement official. William Barr did that job for 18 months from 1991-1992. His reputation is that of a hardcore drug warrior.
Update: On Feb. 14, Barr was confirmed as the nation’s Attorney General by a 54-45 Senate vote.
A conservative, white-collar lawyer who also worked in the Reagan administration, as Attorney General, Barr favored longer prison sentences for drug offenders, mass drug testing in the workplace, civil forfeiture, pursuing cannabis cultivators as if they were public enemy No. 1 and rigorous use of military in drug law enforcement.
Barr was the federal quarterback leading the efforts at the Department of Justice to block any and all efforts to legalize medical access to cannabis, from appealing NORML vs. DEA out of the administrative courts to quashing the Compassionate Investigative New Drug Program, which, in the early ’90s, had a dozen patients receiving medical cannabis from the government’s pot farm in Mississippi.
As Attorney General under H.W. Bush, Barr favored longer prison sentences for drug offenders, mass drug testing in the workplace, civil forfeiture and rigorous use of military in drug law enforcement.
“Oh, yes, using the military in drugs was always under discussion,” he said in an oral history interview at the University of Virginia in 2001. “I personally was of the view it was a national security problem. I personally likened it to terrorism… But, we never tightened the noose.”
Since Barr’s AG stint, there’s been a sea change in U.S. marijuana reform policy: 46 states now allow qualifying medical patients to legally access some form of cannabis products and 10 have eliminated marijuana prohibition altogether.
The primary question going into 2019 for Barr is whether or not, like Sessions—who loathed everything associated with marijuana—Trump will restrain him from interfering with the nascent cannabis industry.
Rumors circulating inside the Beltway indicate the Trump administration will be offering up a new federal cannabis policy sometime in 2019 reflecting the fact that large portions of the U.S. are in violation of federal anti-marijuana laws that are unpopular and obstruct states’ efforts to end prohibition.
During his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr stated: “I think it’s a mistake to back off on marijuana. However, if we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, then let’s get there and let’s get there the right way.”
He added: “To the extent people are complying with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that.”
Thousands of cannabusiness license holders and Wall Street investors and millions of cannabis consumers and medical patients, along with numerous state tax collectors, will no doubt be closely watching the actions of the incoming Attorney General and his less-than-predictable employer.
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