William Barr Says He Supports Federal Law Prohibiting Marijuana Across the U.S., but Says He Backs Cole Memo

Donald Trump's attorney general nominee William Barr appears to have a similar stance on marijuana as his predecessor Jeff Sessions, telling lawmakers on Tuesday that he would support federal prohibition of the drug across the United States.

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would support prohibiting marijuana "everywhere" but also said that, if confirmed, his approach would be "not to upset settled expectations" in states that have already legalized weed for medical or adult use.

"I'm not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole Memorandum," Barr told the committee. "However, we either should have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support myself because I think it's a mistake to back off marijuana. But if we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, let's get there and let's get there the right way."

Currently, more than 30 states across the U.S. have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use.

Former Attorney General Sessions, who was forced to resign from his post shortly after the midterm elections, was one of the biggest opponents to marijuana legalization. He has repeatedly said that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and once commented about the Ku Klux Klan: "I thought those guys were OK until I learned they smoked pot."

Last year, Sessions rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that adopted a non-interference policy with marijuana-friendly states. The move essentially shifted the federal government's hands-off approach to marijuana policy and allowed federal prosecutors to crack down on weed possession in states where it was legalized.

At the time, Sessions called the policy change a "return to the rule of law."

william barr confirmation hearing
William Barr, nominee to be Attorney General, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on January 15. During his testimony, Barr said he would support a federal ban on marijuana. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

But Barr told lawmakers the current state of marijuana reform is "untenable and really has to be addressed." He said that marijuana policy is a "binary choice" and the federal government should either ban marijuana everywhere, or create a standardized way for states to take their own approach to legalization.

Barr also told the committee he did not intend to use limited federal resources within the Justice Department to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have already legalized the drug in one form or another.

"But I think it's incumbent on the Congress to make a decision as to whether we are going to have a federal system," he added. "Because this is breeding disrespect for the federal law."