Micah Bucy May 6, 2022

Last week (April 26th), in a very brief exchange before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Attorney General Merrick Garland seemingly reaffirmed that the DOJ would not prosecute cannabis used in compliance with state law. The Attorney General stated “the Justice Department has almost never prosecuted use of marijuana and that’s not an efficient use of the resources given the opioid and methamphetamine epidemic that we have.”

This was the only time AG Garland was asked about cannabis during this hearing and the inquiring senator, Senator Schatz (D-HI), was satisfied with AG Garland’s concise answer. Presumably Senator Schatz posed this question because AG Garland has not reinstituted the Cole Memo – the 2013 DOJ policy guidance that instructed federal prosecutors to refrain from enforcing federal cannabis drug laws on state-compliantoperations and users – which AG Jeff Sessions rescinded in 2018.

Upon parsing AG Garland’s recent testimony it is worth pointing out that he only reaffirmed that resources would not be used to prosecute the “use” of cannabis and did not account for the cultivation, processing, intra-state transport, and dispensing practices that comprise a fully-functioning state-compliant cannabis program. But given AG Garland’s testimony during his 2021 senate confirmation hearings about the harmful and outsized effects that criminalizing cannabis has had on racial minorities and his track record leading the AG’s office thus far, the fact that AG Garland did not reference the necessary components of a state-compliant supply chain in response to Senator Schatz probably isn’t significant but is worth monitoring. Of course, the fact that AG Garland has recognized the racial disparities associated with criminalizing cannabis, the first U.S. Attorney General to do so, poses another question: to stop the now-recognized racial inequality associated with the criminalization of cannabis, why hasn’t the Justice Department exercised its power under the Controlled Substances Act to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug to end its discriminatory effects?