New Attorney General Opines on Cannabis & Music Licensing Consent Decrees
In sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, then nominee for Attorney General and since confirmed, William Barr stated that he disagrees with efforts by states to legalize marijuana but won’t “go after” marijuana companies in states that have legalized it based on the Obama administration’s policies.
“My approach to this would be not to upset settled expectations and the reliance interests that have arisen as a result of the Cole memoranda,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Investments have been made, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to upset those interests.”
The “Cole Memo” is 2013 guidance from then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole urging prosecutors not to interfere with state laws legalizing cannabis. It was rescinded in 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Barr added, “We should either have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support myself, because I think it’s a mistake to back off on marijuana. However, 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.”
After his nomination hearing, Barr submitted written responses to “questions for the record” submitted by Senators. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked “Can you commit that the Department of Justice will work with Congress to develop an alternative framework prior to any action to terminate or modify the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees?”
Barr replied, “I commit that, if I am confirmed, the Department will stand ready, as always, to provide this Committee with technical assistance on any legislative proposal regarding music licensing. I also commit that, if confirmed, I will work with the Antitrust Division to ensure that this Committee is informed of the Division’s intentions a reasonable time before it takes any action to modify or terminate the decrees.”
The exchange comes as the Department of Justice is conducting a sweeping review of 1,300 antitrust consent decrees, including the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees. These decrees play a critical role in allowing Americans to hear their favorite songs, and Sen. Blumenthal has previously been on record expressing his concern that terminating the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees could undermine the Music Modernization Act and permit the accumulation and abuse of market power.
The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) (S. 362) was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate on February 6, with support from a broad group of alcohol industry supplier-tier trade associations representing the beer, wine, spirits, and cider sectors.
The legislation was first introduced in 2015, reintroduced in 2017, and a version was included as a two-year provision in tax legislation passed in December 2017. The latest iteration, which is once again cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), would make permanent the excise tax relief for alcohol producers and importers enacted in 2017.
Industry associations supporting the CBMTRA include Brewers Association, Beer Institute, WineAmerica, Wine Institute, Distilled Spirits Council, American Craft Spirits Association, and U.S. Association of Cider Makers. In the 115th Congress (2017-2018), the CBMTRA garnered 55 Senator and 305 Representative cosponsors.
Death Tax Repeal Act Reintroduced
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) have reintroduced the Death Tax Repeal Act in the Senate (S. 215) and the House (H.R. 218). Both long-time champions of the effort to permanently repeal the estate or “death” tax, the legislation faces headwinds, particularly in the Democratically-controlled House. In the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed raising the tax’s top rate to 77 percent. ABL has supported permanent repeal and also permanent relief from the tax. Temporary relief was realized with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which temporarily doubles the exemption amount for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes from $5.6 million to $11.2 million per individual and $22.4 million per couple. This policy went into effect on January 1, 2018 and is good for tax years 2018 through 2025. Without further Congressional action, the exemption will sunset after 2025 and the top exemption will revert to the $5.6 million base (indexed for inflation.)
Drunk Driving Bill Introduced in House
On January 11, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced the Abbas Stop Drunk Driving Act (H.R. 514), named after a Michigan family of five that was killed in January by a drunk driver. The legislation calls for the Department of Transportation to implement a federal motor vehicle safety standard that requires all new vehicles be equipped with an ignition interlock device within one year of the bill’s enactment. The bill currently has no cosponsors.
NTSB Renews Call for States to Adopt 0.05 BAC Limit
On February 4, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced its 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Of the ten items on the list, NTSB calls to “End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment.” The NTSB states, “We want to continue to see states adopt per se BAC limits of 0.05 percent or below, as well as broaden their use of other effective countermeasures, like ignition interlock devices and high-visibility enforcement.
“Impairment in transportation is not limited to just alcohol; it also includes impairment by other drugs—legal or illicit. We want a national drug testing standard for passenger vehicles and stronger screening and toxicology testing in commercial transportation.”
First issued in 1990, the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements serves as the agency’s primary advocacy tool to help save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce property damage resulting from transportation accidents. The NTSB first called for states to adopt per se BAC limits of 0.05 BAC in 2013. ABL staff testified before the NTSB on alcohol impaired driving in 2012.
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act Reintroduced
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has reintroduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (H.R. 420), which would legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and allow for a nationally regulated industry under the oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Blumenauer, a leading voice for marijuana policy reform, last year authored a comprehensive blueprint for marijuana legalization in the 116th Congress.
On February 7, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) followed suit by introducing (S. 420), which would de-schedule marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), establish a federal excise tax on legal sales and create a system of permits for businesses to engage in cannabis commerce.