Biden to tap Merrick Garland for attorney general, offering stark contrast to anti-cannabis AGs under Trump

President-elect Joe Biden has settled on Merrick Garland as his nominee for U.S. attorney general, multiple news organizations reported Wednesday, tapping a federal judge who is likely to be less hostile to the marijuana industry than President Trump’s top law enforcement officers.

Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington DC, was former President Barack Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court seat in 2016, but the nomination was thwarted by Senate Republicans, who refused to grant him any hearings for the high court seat.

Now, Garland apparently has beat out several other contenders to head up the U.S. Department of Justice, which wields major influence over the marijuana industry.

The choice of Garland will have many in the cannabis sector wondering what approach he’ll take to the legal marijuana industry, given the still-questionable relationship between federal law and state-legal MJ companies.

But in 2016, when Obama picked Garland for the Supreme Court, several MJ industry insiders said their impressions of him were favorable, based solely on a statement he’d made about basing scientific decisions on solid science.

With Biden already having vowed to support some level of federal marijuana reform, it’s unlikely he would choose an attorney general who would launch a new national crackdown on the cannabis industry.

That’s because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was the primary Senate sponsor of the MORE Act to legalize marijuana.

And the odds for federal reform are much improved now that the Democrats appear to have taken control of both chambers of Congress on the apparent wins of both Democratic candidates in the Senate runoffs in Georgia on Tuesday.

Different viewpoint on marijuana?

Garland will also likely be a stark contrast to the views of Trump’s two attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr.

Sessions in 2018 rescinded the Cole Memo and other federal documents that had acted as guidelines for the DOJ and how they handled state-legal MJ industries, and Barr’s DOJ deliberately delayed proposed cannabis business mergers in order to hamper industry growth.

Marijuana industry advocates were hesitant on Wednesday to celebrate Garland’s selection, however, and said his stance on the plant isn’t clear.

“Merrick Garland’s position on cannabis is somewhat of an unknown, though in the past he has given fair consideration to the science involved in cannabis policy,” Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association, wrote in a statement emailed to Marijuana Business Daily.

“We will be working with allies on the Hill to pose questions during the nomination process to shed more light on where he stands,” Fox added.

“We expect that he will be better than the last two attorneys general and will at least continue the policy of respecting state cannabis laws and programs.”

A ‘conservative choice’

Steve Fox, a strategic adviser to the Cannabis Trade Federation and no relation to the NCIA’s Morgan Fox, wrote in an email to MJBizDaily that Garland is a “conservative” choice by Biden and indicated his organization wasn’t exactly jumping for joy over the pick.

“Based on his approach to the law, it does not seem likely that Judge Garland will be a progressive, reform-minded Attorney General,” Fox wrote.

“This could, for example, affect how aggressive the Department (of Justice) might be in employing the Office of the Pardon Attorney to correct the injustices of cannabis prohibition.

“I do believe, however, that Judge Garland will be a thoughtful leader of the (DOJ). Through CTF, we look forward to providing insight to him and other members of the (DOJ) as they craft what we anticipate to be an updated version of the rescinded Cole Memo.”

Saphira Galoob, executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), had a single-sentence response when asked about Garland’s nomination.

“NCR is looking forward to working constructively with new leadership to advance cannabis reform in Washington,” she wrote in an email to MJBizDaily.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]