Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. “As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum,” he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year. That said, Barr isn’t committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. “I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like,” he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration.” And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. YOU MAY ALSO LIKE Intel AI BRANDVOICE How AI Will Change Industrial Labor—And How We Think About Work FORBES INSIGHTS Key Characteristics Of AI Leaders FORBES INSIGHTS General Counsel-Turned-CEO Helps Organizations Cut Through The Confusion Of Cryptocurrencies “I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana,” he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday. But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn’t go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. “An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law,” Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana.” Elsewhere in the 247-page document, Barr says that he supports expanding the number of institutions that are allowed to grow marijuana to be used in scientific research. “I support the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law,” he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). “If confirmed, I will review the matter and take appropriate steps.” A single facility at the University of Mississippi has for half a century maintained a monopoly on the cultivation of cannabis for research, but due to concerns about the availability and quality of its products, the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2016 announced a process to license additional manufacturers. However, under Sessions, the Department of Justice has blocked the agency from acting on any of the several dozen applications it has received from would-be growers. “I am not familiar with the details of these applications or the status of their review,” Barr wrote. “If confirmed, I can commit to reviewing the matter.” Barr also acknowledged that, due to the passage of the Farm Bill and its hemp legalization provisions late last year, hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) and other components and products made from low-THC cannabis plants are legally distinct from those that come from marijuana. “Products derived from hemp, including CBD, are therefore subject to different legal and regulatory restrictions than those derived from non-hemp marijuana plants under certain circumstances,” he wrote. He also pledged to “look into” pending medical and scientific evaluations of CBD, which could lead to its formal rescheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. All told, the cannabis comments indicate that if Barr is confirmed by the Senate, the Justice Department would be poised to take a different approach to marijuana issues than it did under Sessions, who has long been a vocal legalization opponent. NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said Barr is “incredibly wise to acknowledge that the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the marijuana reform movement.” “Now is the time for the Department of Justice to work in good faith with the Senate Judiciary Committee on legislative solutions that address the senseless waste of law enforcement’s precious time and resources due to the failed federal policy of prohibition,” he said.


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America’s cannabis companies are racing to build national brands and market their wares to mainstream consumers. There’s just one problem: It’s hard to advertise your product when the federal government considers you a drug dealer.

Facebook, which like Google prohibits marijuana ads, has kicked some weed sellers off Instagram. Earlier this month CBS declined to air a commercial touting the benefits of medical marijuana during the Super Bowl. Much the way banks are unwilling to finance cannabis startups, television networks and online advertising marketplaces are understandably cautious because the feds still classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and ecstasy.

With a growing number of states legalizing weed for recreational and medical purposes, the US market could surge eight-fold to $80 billion in sales by 2030, according to Cowen & Co. But it’s hard to see that happening unless companies can market their wares the way beer and liquor companies do. After decades of prohibition, many consumers need a push to give marijuana a try.

“The public has a stigmatized view of the product but legitimate business owners can’t reach them — it creates mistrust,” says Kyle Porter, who runs CMW Media, which does marketing and public relations for cannabis companies. “We’re really limited in how we can reach customers.”

For several years, marijuana companies have considered Instagram an ideal place to build their brands. In an effort to position weed as a mainstream product, they post pictures of buds and joints and show people hiking with vape pens or relaxing on the beach with cannabis edibles. But Instagram, a Facebook property, doesn’t let weed sellers advertise. In a statement, the company said that while it allows “marijuana advocacy content,” posts promoting the sale of cannabis are verboten. Dispensaries are prohibited from providing contact information, including phone numbers and street addresses, “regardless of state or country.”

Though many weed sellers — legal and black market — continue to operate accounts on Instagram, some complain that the social-media site shuts down their accounts with little warning or explanation. Binske, a Colorado company that sells vape pens, bud, and cannabis-infused chocolates made with Peruvian cacao, spent the better part of two years building up its brand on Instagram. Then in September, just a few days after the company paid Snoop Dogg $30,000 to DJ a promotional event at a Las Vegas dispensary, the account disappeared.

Concerned about losing social-media momentum, Binske vice president of business development Alex Pasternack spent two weeks submitting documents to Instagram, trying to prove his company was legit. Then, without notice, the account came back — with its more than 12,000 followers intact.

“Everyone is just making up their own rules,” says Pasternack, who’s looking at other ways to get the word out. Binske now has licensing deals with companies that will use its recipes and branding in California, Nevada, and Florida, partnerships the company hopes will help double revenue this year. This type of arrangement is key in an industry where companies are still not allowed to ship products from one state to another.

Caliva, one of California’s top-selling marijuana brands, says it has lost five or six Instagram accounts over the last couple of years. It sponsors education events at Bay Area yoga studios and senior centers, where representatives hold forth on the medical benefits of marijuana, how to fit edibles into an active lifestyle and other topics. Many companies rely on the“bud tenders” manning the counter at dispensaries around California. If asked for recommendations, they can steer customers toward certain brands.

“Our hands are really tied from a marketing perspective,” says Caliva’s branding chief Rosie Rothrock. “So we rely heavily on those relationships.”

MedMen, arguably the best-known name in the industry, is using a time-tested marketing trick from the brick-and-mortar playbook: opening stores. With a market value of roughly $1.5 billion, the company has spent heavily on licenses and real estate to operate stores at high-profile spots in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and even New York City, where it has a location not far from the Public Library on Fifth Avenue. New York state has a small medical program and is expected to approve recreational weed this year. Until then, the real estate is an “investment in a flagship,” says David Dancer, the company’s chief marketing officer.

While MedMen has also lost Instagram accounts, it’s finding that some marketing channels are opening up as attitudes about marijuana shift across the United States. The company, which sells weed in distinctive red bags, has billboards in California and runs spots during the Howard Stern show on Sirius radio. It has also started placing print ads in Conde Nast publications.

For now, television and streaming services are a “hard no” when it comes to cannabis ads, Dancer says, but he expects them to get on board sooner rather than later. “It just keeps snowballing,” he says. “These conversations keep expanding and expanding.”