Biden Expected to Pick Merrick Garland as Attorney General. What Does It Mean for Cannabis?

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to name federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland as his pick to be U.S. Attorney General, according to the Associated Press. This follows another nomination closely watched by cannabis advocates and the industry: Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services secretary.

Garland’s involvement with cannabis policy is mostly limited to his role in a case that is nearly a decade old, in which Americans for Safe Access, a medical cannabis advocacy group, appealed the Drug Enforcement Administration’s rejection of a petition to reschedule cannabis. Cannabis remains in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the strictest categorization, which is for substances considered to have no medical use and the highest potential for abuse. Garland, one of three judges, ultimately sided with the DEA. 

Whether Garland’s views on cannabis have changed is unclear. Though, last month, the UN held a vote in which cannabis was rescheduled to acknowledge its therapeutic value, as Cannabis Wire reported, and the US voted in favor of the change.

Becerra, on the other hand, has supported California’s decision to legalize adult use cannabis, and, last May, called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act in Congress. 

“The continued exclusion of the licensed cannabis industry from the federal banking system is untenable – and unwise,” Becerra said. “The coronavirus crisis has only exacerbated the economic and investigatory challenges that arise from keeping a $15 billion industry in the shadows. Congress should move swiftly to pass this commonsense legislation and provide relief to the many local cannabis businesses that are playing by the rules.” 

While Garland has not, like Becerra, voiced support for cannabis reforms, both picks mark a departure from the approach taken by President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and his second, Bill Barr. In 2018, Sessions rescinded federal memos issued under President Barack Obama that essentially laid out a hands-off approach to state-legal cannabis activity, assuming the state was watching out for things like underage use and product diversion. And while Barr’s position was to leave legal states alone, a whistleblower came forward last year to testify about what he said was, as Cannabis Wire reported, Barr’s “abuse of authority” in pushing for investigations into cannabis company mergers and acquisitions. 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris supports cannabis legalization, but Biden has only expressed support for decriminalization.

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