Loretta Lynch, the nominee for attorney general, said Wednesday during her confirmation hearing that she does not support the legalization of marijuana, and that she disagrees with President Barack Obama's remarks about the drug being no more dangerous than alcohol.
During her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asked, "Do you support the legalization of marijuana?"
"Senator, I do not," Lynch replied.
Sessions then went on to quote a 2014 New Yorker profile of Obama in which the president discussed his marijuana use as a young person. In that article, Obama called pot a "bad habit and a vice" and said he views it as more or less similar to the cigarettes he also used to smoke. "I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama said of the drug.
When Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed with Obama's remarks about his marijuana use, she appeared to take a harder line than the president.
"I certainly don't hold that view and don't agree with that view of marijuana as a substance," Lynch said. "I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I'm able to share. But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization, nor would it be the position if I were confirmed as attorney general."
Recreational marijuana is already legal in Colorado and Washington, and will soon be allowed in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia (although sales of the drug are still banned in D.C.). Additionally, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Obama said during a recent YouTube interview that he suspects more states will look into legalization, citing his administration's hands-off approach with regard to Colorado and Washington. At least 10 more states are considering legalizing marijuana in the next two years, and a recent report from a cannabis industry research firm projected that by 2020, there could be as many as 18 states where recreational marijuana is legal.
Under federal law, however, marijuana remains entirely illegal. States that have proceeded with legalization have been able to do so because of Department of Justice guidance that urges federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.
Earlier in the afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Lynch if she considered the DOJ's guidance "good policy."
Lynch didn't directly answer, but said that the DOJ's guidance still allows federal prosecutors to go after marijuana cases that involve at-risk children, driving under the influence of the drug or marijuana crossing state lines -- especially when it's going from a state where marijuana is legal into a state where it isn't. She also said the DOJ is looking at the availability of edible products "and the risk of those products falling into the hands of children and causing great harm there."
When asked what advice she might give to officials in a state that's considering the legalization of marijuana, Lynch simply said she'd refer them to current DOJ policy on narcotics, and that she'd tell them federal laws would be enforced.