The Evolution of Kamala Harris’ Views On Marijuana

The Evolution of Kamala Harris’ Views On Marijuana

On Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he was selecting Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 election.

Harris, a former prosecutor, has experienced an evolution regarding her views on marijuana prohibition during the last decade.

Views Prior to 2015

In 2003, Harris began her foray into electoral politics by challenging Democratic incumbent Terrence Hallinan for the San Francisco attorney general position. During the campaign, Harris criticized Hallinan’s office for its low conviction rate and vowed to take a tougher stance on crime. After successfully defeating Hallinan, Harris did just that. While at the helm, her office oversaw a 6 percent rise in marijuana convictions. Despite those high numbers, Paul Henderson, Harris’ chief of administration, stated, “Our policy was that no one with a marijuana conviction for mere possession could do any (jail time) at all.”

In 2010, while Harris was making a run for state attorney general, she came out against Proposition 19 — a bill designed to legalize and tax marijuana in California. Her campaign made the statement, “[Harris] supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that.”

Four years later, during re-election, she was flanked to the left by her Republican opponent Ron Gold who stated, “[marijuana] needs to be legalized immediately.” When told about Gold’s statement by a local news station, Harris simply laughed and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” 

2015 Through the Present 

In 2015 her position began to soften. During a speech at the California Democrats Convention, Harris came out in support of ending the federal ban on marijuana. She echoed this statement in 2016 after being elected to congress. Harris addressed noted marijuana prohibitionist Jeff Sessions directly while speaking at the Center for American Progress by saying, “Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

She continued, “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs — as a career prosecutor, I just don’t — we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”

Her shifting views on cannabis prohibition became even more apparent in 2018 when Harris signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act — Presidential rival Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) far-reaching bill designed to end federal prohibition.

In 2019, Harris went a step further and co-sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE). The MORE Act called for not only complete federal legalization but also the expungement of prior marijuana convictions.   It marked the first time in history a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.

“Right now in this country, people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” Harris said in a press release regarding her involvement with the MORE Act.

“Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor, and I know it as a senator.”

Harris went on to co-sponsor the SAFE Banking act —  an essential piece of legislation that would allow cannabis dispensaries access to financial institutions like banks and credit unions.

Attorney General Thinks California May be Next to Legalize Cannabis

Attorney General Thinks California May be Next to Legalize Cannabis

California paved the way for the medical marijuana in 1996, but the recreational use and retail sale of cannabis has yet to pass. If the legalization movement that swept election day earlier this month is any indication, this will not be true for long.

Kamala Harris was re-elected this election day, and has been seated as California’s top-cop since 2011. In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, the Attorney General shared her well-rounded views on legalizing cannabis in the state of California.

Harris summed up her personal view and acceptance of the plant with the statement,

“I don’t have any moral opposition to it or anything like that. Half my family’s from Jamaica.”

Although she may not see anything wrong with cannabis use, she cannot allow her personal feelings to run her professional stance on the matter because she is responsible for the state. To explain this, she reported, “I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective. I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

Harris does not anticipate California waiting much longer to legalize with the efforts being organized to place a measure on the 2016 ballot, but thinks it is important to allow voters to decide. She pointed out, “We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s going to take too long to figure this out. I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

Thinking as a top-cop should, Harris is exploring all possible angles. She understands that the path is being paved already in Colorado and Washington, and soon there will be more examples to learn from in Oregon and Alaska. Harris made it clear in further elaboration that she anticipates to learn a lot from the growing pains experienced in these states where voters already legalized,

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop. The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.”

Harris also clarified that she is looking out for the best interest of the state to avoid possible federal repercussions, “We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states, if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest.”

Although, Harris is aware that recreational legalization of the plant is guaranteed in the not-so-distant future, she will not publicly endorse the issue because she has a professional responsibility to uphold. The state of California is in intelligent, capable hands that are aware of the big picture and the future of cannabis in the United States.

photo credit: Salon

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