It’s not exactly unexpected news, as Kanna Knowledge mentioned back in January that Attorney General Merrick Garland would be likely to, at the least, preserve the status quo. Still, it was good to hear him make the Department of Justice position clear in a recent House Appropriations subcommittee meeting.
The initial question was asked by California Representative Mike Garcia, who wanted to know if the DOJ would take action against the illicit cannabis cultivators in his district, many of whom come into the U.S. aiming to steal natural resources for their grow operations and intimidate local residents.
Garland said that “The department’s view on marijuana use is that enforcement against use is not a good use of our resources. And I understand that’s not what you’re talking about. You’re talking about growing and manufacturing on a large scale … so to the extent you’re asking for examples about transnational operations of large amounts coming from Mexico … into the United States to do the growing, these are certainly within our jurisdiction and within our scope of concern.”
While the hearing was not focused on cannabis, rather on the annual budget request for the Department of Justice, it did show that Garland’s views have remained consistent with his testimony during his confirmation hearings: “I do not think it the best use of the Department’s limited resources to pursue prosecutions of those who are complying with the laws in states that have legalized and are effectively regulating marijuana” and “Criminalizing the use of marijuana has contributed to mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and has made it difficult for millions of Americans to find employment due to criminal records for nonviolent offenses.”
This is more evidence that the Biden Justice Department is looking very similar to the Obama Justice Department, where more lenient policies had been established in the Cole Memorandum, only later to be rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Trump administration. The one shoe left to drop is the issuance of a new cannabis prosecution guidance memo, which Garland was not pressed about in the hearing. Nonetheless, it’s expected from Garland’s signals that new DOJ guidelines can be expected in the not too distant future. Garland’s dialing back of the previous Attorney General William Barr’s stance on cannabis is also being welcomed by the M&A crowd. Barr allegedly directed antitrust investigations into multiple mergers due to his personal distaste for the industry — which the Biden Administration has no interest in doing.