Merrick Garland, Attorney General under the Biden Administration, reiterated on Tuesday that he believes pursuing individual cannabis consumers that are legally permitted to use marijuana products under state laws would be a waste of resources for the Justice Department.
Garland’s comments came during a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting on Tuesday where Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) inquired of Garland about what actions the DOJ could take to halt illicit cannabis cultivators, many of whom belong to transnational organizations, that are intimidating local residents and stealing natural resources for their grow operations in his district of California.
Garland responded by saying that “The department’s view on marijuana use is that enforcement against use is not a good use of our resources. And I understand that’s not what you’re talking about. You’re talking about growing and manufacturing at a large scale.”
The Attorney General went on to state, “It’s probably not a good use of our resources where it is regulated by the state—and again, I take it that that’s not what you’re asking about, so to the extent you’re asking for examples about transnational operations of large amounts coming from Mexico or transnational operators who are coming into the United States to do the growing, these are certainly within our jurisdiction and within our scope of concern.”
Illegal Cannabis Cultivation in California
With the aim of Tuesday’s meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies to focus on annual budget request for the Justice Department, drug enforcement was part of the broader conversation. Rep. Garcia requested that federal funds be made available for officials of the DOJ to tour parts of California to see exclusively the problems illicit cultivators were causing, specifically to the legal cannabis industry.
A 2020 report, recently released to the public, does indicate that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has concentrated efforts on eliminating illegal grow operations, even in states where cannabis is legal. And while data from these marijuana eradication programs do show that more illegal plants (mainly in California) were confiscated in 2020 in comparison to the previous year, seizures are considerably less than just a decade prior.
All this seems to be in line with AG Garland’s philosophy for how the Justice Department should prioritize marijuana use and cultivation processes within states where it is legal. In fact, throughout Garland’s confirmation process, he provided similar responses to those he gave Rep. Garcia during the subcommittee meeting.
Biden Justice Department and Marijuana Prosecutions
“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,” he previously asserted. “I do think we need to be sure, for example, that there are no end runs around the state laws by criminal enterprises, and that access is prohibited to minors.”
Many wait to see if the Department of Justice under Garland will issue any new cannabis prosecution guidance memo. As the wait continues for a federal response to an increasing number of states legalizing cannabis, one thing is for certain – the Justice Department is moving away from the previous administration’s stance on marijuana use and is returning to policies under the Obama Administration.
In a written testimony Garland provided prior to his confirmation hearing, he stated that “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.”
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