Attorney General William Barr may have just thrown a wrench in movements to legalize marijuana on a federal level, saying during a Senate hearing that he supports a nationwide ban on the drug.
Barr’s statement comes as an increasing number of states have moved to legalize marijuana in various forms, from medical marijuana to recreational. There has been a continued uncertainty over the legal status of the drug, which remains illegal on a federal level. The federal government to date has not moved to invalidate state laws that legalized marijuana, but that could change under Barr.
Speaking to members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, Barr said he would support a move to make the drug illegal.
“Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana,” Barr said during the hearing, via Newsweek.
Absent that kind of clarity, Barr said he would continue the current policy to let states decide.
“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, you know, make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law. So we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law,” he added.
It was not clear if Barr was simply speaking hypothetically in response to a question about federal marijuana law or if the Department of Justice may move to clarify the status of the drug by asserting that it remains illegal on a federal level. Supporters of medical marijuana have expressed worry that this could lead to crackdowns on states that have legalized the drug.
There will likely be some kind of move to create clarity between state and federal laws, legal experts say. Newsweek noted that the American Bar Association warned in 2014, after marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington State, that the discrepancy between federal and state laws could lead to ethical concerns for lawyers.
The legalization of marijuana is likely to be an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, with several Democratic candidates already expressing support for the legalization on a federal level. Daniel Mallinson, assistant professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg, told Mashable that support for marijuana legalization has become almost a standard for Democratic candidates.
“Democrats are all jostling to be the most progressive right now. At least the ones who have declared already,” Mallison said in the February interview. “You have to check a box for marijuana legalization if you want to run in that space.”