AG Nominee: Prosecutions in States with Legal Marijuana Not a Good Use of Justice Department Resources

Washington, DC: Judge Merrick Garland, the Biden Administration’s nominee for US Attorney General, reaffirmed in written testimony this week that he would not use Justice Department resources to interfere in the majority of states that have legalized marijuana for either medical or adult-use purposes. 

Garland suggested during his initial nomination hearing last week that, under his direction, the Justice Department is unlikely to get involved in states where cannabis is legal – a policy first outlined by the Obama administration, but later rescinded in 2018 by former AG Jeff Sessions.  

“It does not seem to me useful the use of limited resources that we have to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise,” Garland said in response to a question posed by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. He added: “I do think we need to be sure that there are no end runs around the state laws that criminal enterprises are doing. 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, and it only confuses people obviously within the state.” 

This week, he reaffirmed that position in writing, stating: “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. … As I suggested at my hearing, 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. … It is important to focus our attention on violent crimes and other crimes that greatly endanger our society, and prosecutions for simple marijuana possession are not an effective use of limited resources.”

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These comments ought to be reassuring to those employed by the growing state-regulated cannabis industry and to those millions of Americans who rely upon it. That said, such a ‘hand off’ policy is little more than a short-term band-aid. The long-term solution is for Congress to deschedule cannabis – thereby repealing the failed federal policy of marijuana prohibition and eliminating the existing state/federal conflict.”

Merrick Garland’s nomination now awaits confirmation by the full Senate.

For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director.