The U.S. marijuana industry will likely have a friendlier attorney general if President Joe Biden’s pick, Merrick Garland, is confirmed as the head of the Department of Justice – based on comments the federal judge made Monday during his confirmation hearing.
Garland made clear that, if confirmed, he would deprioritize enforcement of low-level marijuana crimes such as possession, and he suggested that federal reforms are closely tied to the larger issue of social justice for minorities.
When U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, asked whether Garland would reinstitute a version of the Cole Memo – which was rescinded by former President Donald Trump’s first attorney general – Garland said it doesn’t make much sense to him to spend “limited resources” pursuing nonviolent criminals such as those guilty of marijuana possession.
“This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion,” Garland said. “It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.
“I do think we need to be sure there are no end-runs around the state laws that criminal enterprises are doing. So that kind of enforcement should be continued. But I don’t think it’s a good use of our resources, where states have already authorized. That only confuses people, obviously, within the state.”
Earlier in the hearing, Garland said he’s “deeply aware” of the social justice movement going on across the United States with respect to minorities and how they’re often targeted much more than whites for the same crimes, such as nonviolent MJ possession.
“The marijuana example is a perfect example that you’ve given here,” Garland said. “Here’s a nonviolent crime, with respect to usage, that does not require us to incarcerate people, that we’re incarcerating at different rates, significantly different rates, of different communities. And that is wrong.”
Later in the morning, in responding to a question from Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, Garland said there are “a lot of things” the DOJ could do to address systemic racism in the country.
“One important way, I think, is to focus on the crimes that really matter,” Garland said.
“To bring our charging and arresting on violent crimes and others that deeply affect our society, and not have such an overemphasis on marijuana possession, for example, which has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”
– John Schroyer