Editor's Note: This story was updated at 9:10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 16 to reflect comments from Dentons' Eric Berlin.
President Donald Trump announced the resignation of Attorney General William Barr Dec. 14, while simultaneously announcing that Barr’s current deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, will become acting attorney general when Barr officially steps down next week.
“Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family,” Trump tweeted Monday night. “Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, an outstanding person, will become Acting Attorney General. Highly respected Richard Donoghue will be taking over the duties of Deputy Attorney General. Thank you to all!”
Although Trump’s message implied that Barr left amicably, CNN reported that the president has been considering firing the attorney general, while aides have discouraged Trump from doing so over the past several months.
A White House official told the news outlet that Barr was neither forced out nor fired.
Barr’s impact on the cannabis industry during his time as attorney general is largely reflected in his antitrust investigations into cannabis mergers.
“While Attorney General Barr did not initiate criminal enforcement against state-legal cannabis companies, he did initiate specious antitrust investigations directed at several cannabis mergers/acquisitions last year," Eric Berlin, co-chair of Dentons' Cannabis Practice, told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
In June, a Department of Justice whistleblower, John Elias, a career employee at the DOJ, testified before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary that the probes, which accounted for 29% of the Antitrust Division’s total merger investigations in 2019, were not bona fide antitrust investigations, as they did not meet the standard internal requirements for proceeding with a Second Request subpoena, which the DOJ must file to formally object to a merger. Instead, Elias alleged that Barr was motivated by his personal dislike of the cannabis industry when he launched investigations into nearly a dozen cannabis deals last year.
Upon Barr’s departure next week, Rosen will fill the role of attorney general until President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn into office Jan. 20. Biden has not yet chosen an attorney general, according to an Independent report.
Rosen previously served under Elaine Chao as Deputy Transportation Secretary before his appointment to the DOJ, where he replaced Rod Rosenstein as then-deputy attorney general, according to the Independent.
"We do not anticipate any change in federal cannabis enforcement policy during the acting Attorney General’s tenure in the short time until the Biden administration takes over," Berlin said.