New Attorney General Opposes Marijuana Legalization

Unsure of how Eric Holder Jr’s replacement might affect the US Justice Department’s current approach to state-legal cannabis businesses (refer to the 2013 Cole memorandum), those of us working in the marijuana industry waited nervously as the confirmation process for a new Attorney General was dragged out for months. Loretta Lynch, the new United States Attorney General, was sworn in late last month; the first African-American female to hold the position.

Prior to her confirmation, Lynch has stated before conservative-controlled Senate committees that she opposes marijuana legalization and that she does not share President Obama’s stance that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol (a stance that has been echoed in a study published earlier this year). “I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share,” she said, “but I can tell you that not only do I not support the legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization. Nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

Though these words are obviously concerning to marijuana legalization advocates, industry leaders are quick to remind us that the official stance of President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder was also that they don’t support legalization. In written responses to questions from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has actually stated, in her own words, that she thinks her predecessor’s approach to marijuana enforcement in states with legalized cannabis cultivation & sales is rational:
“The Department has not suspended or rolled back enforcement of the CSA in states that have legalized the cultivation, distribution, or sale of marijuana. The Department’s August 2013 memorandum simply provides guidance, applicable to federal prosecutors in every state, regarding the use of the Department’s limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant public health and public safety threats in an effective, consistent and rational way.”

Considering she does not have personal experience with marijuana and has expressed distaste in the concept of legal cannabis, the fact that Attorney General Lynch respectfully expressed to the conservative Chair of the Judiciary Committee—an outspoken critic of medical and recreational marijuana, whose website amusingly links to NIH surveys that contradict his sentiments, who is very vocal about his disagreement with Holder and Obama’s opinions on marijuana policy—that she considers Eric Holder Jr’s mostly hands-off approach to be “effective, consistent and rational” can certainly be viewed as a good sign.

Of course, it’s too early to tell how much the new Attorney General will influence the regulated recreational cannabis industries in states such as Washington, Colorado, and [soon] Oregon & Alaska, but her words indicate that she does not view taxed and regulated cannabis markets to be a priority.