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.
Every year, about 1,000 students lose some or all of their federal financial aid because they admit to having a conviction for a marijuana or other drug offense. But a Senate bill filed on Friday would change that.
One provision of the bill—which aims to “streamline the financial aid application process” overall—would eliminate a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regarding drug convictions. Currently, applicants must answer this question:
“Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans)?”
In some cases, a “yes” response could mean the difference between going on to graduate or dropping out. Low-income students, who might not be able to afford tuition without federal aid, are particularly impacted.
That’s why a growing number of civil rights, drug reform and higher education groups have called for the question to be removed from the FAFSA. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a coalition of six other senators hope their new bill will achieve that goal.
“We know that when a student completes the federal financial aid form, he or she is more likely to receive aid, attend college, and graduate from college,” Booker said in a press release. “But sadly, less than half of today’s high school students complete the form, and students from underserved backgrounds complete the form at even lower rates than their peers.”
“Our bill would simplify the complicated process in order to reduce barriers to higher learning for students from marginalized populations.”
The “Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act” would do more than just remove that one question. It would also take steps to simplify the process of determining financial aid eligibility and make the FAFSA available to the young immigrants known as DREAMers, for example.
But the drug conviction question is an important one that’s penalized tens of thousands of students since Congress first enacted the aid ban in 1998. There have been efforts to revise the question so that students don’t automatically lose all of their aid if they self-report a drug conviction, but even a partial loss can derail students on the path to higher education.
“The drug conviction question, which remains on the FAFSA, serves solely as a deterrent to higher education from the students who might benefit from it most: particularly, students of color whose communities have been overpoliced and marginalized by the drug war,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment.
“We champion any effort to assure students equitable access to education, and look forward to the day when young people who are unlucky enough to be caught using drugs are not punished for the same behavior that half of their peers get away with.”
Initial cosponsors of Booker’s financial aid reform bill are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, will shape the country’s legal system for decades to come if he is confirmed by the Senate. But how would the federal judge rule in cases dealing with marijuana legalization and drug policy reform?
When it comes to cannabis and the right of states to set their own laws, it’s really anybody’s guess at this point. Kavanaugh doesn’t appear to have weighed in on the issue specifically, but it’s possible he’ll be asked about his views during confirmation hearings by pro-legalization Judiciary Committee members like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or Kamala Harris (D-CA).
That said, a brief overview of the nominee’s judicial record reveals someone who routinely defers to the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has for decades refused to change marijuana’s restrictive status under federal law. For example, Kavanaugh sided with the majority in a 2007 case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which determined that terminally ill patients don’t have a constitutional right to access drugs that haven’t received FDA approval.
That could set up an interesting debate if there are any legal challenges to a new “right to try” law that Trump signed in May. The policy allows seriously ill patients to access unapproved drugs— and based on the criteria, cannabis may qualify.
Kavanaugh also upheld the authority of the FDA in a 2013 case, STAT News reported. He argued that the federal agency’s procedure for approving or denying expedited approval of medical devices should be respected.
“A court is ill-equipped to second-guess that kind of agency scientific judgment.”
A 2012 case concerning drug testing—for which Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion—is also revealing. The federal judge argued that mandating drug testing of government employees at specialized residential schools for at-risk youth doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment.
“A residential school program for at-risk youth who have a history of drug problems can turn south quickly if the schools do not maintain some level of discipline,” he wrote. “To maintain discipline, the schools must ensure that the employees who work there do not themselves become part of the problem. That is especially true when, as here, the employees are one of the few possible conduits for drugs to enter the schools.”
Kavanaugh said that because the drug testing program is “narrowly targeted” and the government “has a strong and indeed compelling interest in maintaining a drug-free workforce,” the mandate doesn’t amount to a violation of the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Though these cases don’t provide an especially comprehensive window into the SCOTUS nominee’s views on marijuana specifically, they do appear to reflect a pattern: Kavanaugh puts his faith in the FDA, which has denied that marijuana has any proven medical benefits, and his interpretation of the limitations of the Fourth Amendment seems to stand in contrast to drug policy reform advocates.
“More than half of the United States has enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis, yet federal law remains in conflict,” Merkley said in a press release. “This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses. As long as financial institutions aren’t able to service cannabis enterprises, these businesses are forced to operate in an all-cash environment that’s unsafe and lacks accountability. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”
Several other Democratic senators have already signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act, most recently Kamala Harris of California.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the latest potential 2020 presidential candidate to support marijuana legalization.
The California senator announced on Thursday that she is signing onto a far-reaching bill to end the federal prohibition of cannabis, The Marijuana Justice Act, introduced last year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the right thing to do,” she said in an interview with NowThis. “And I know this as a former prosecutor, I know this as a senator, and I know it when I just look at what we want as a country and where we need to be instead of where we’ve been.”
Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do and it’s the right thing to do. Today, I’m announcing my support for @CoryBooker’s Marijuana Justice Act. pic.twitter.com/cOh3SjMaOW
Harris has now joined the ranks of other potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders who’ve endorsed the legislation, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand(D-NY). Booker himself is believed to be exploring a run for the party’s nomination as well.
Harris has faced criticism from legalization advocates for recently making public statements about the importance of federal cannabis reform, while until now declining to introduce or co-sponsor legislation that would actually accomplish that.
The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so that states could legalize without federal interference, and would withhold funding from states that maintain criminalization and continue to have racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis.
The legislation would also direct federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions and allow people punished under disproportionately enforced cannabis laws to file civil lawsuits against those states.
Money withheld from states with discriminatory marijuana policies would be used to fund job training and libraries.
It’s time to not only legalize marijuana, but to expunge the records of those who have been carrying the burdens of past convictions for too long.
The Thursday announcement about signing onto the bill represents a stark reversal for Harris who, as California attorney general in 2014, simply laughed in a reporter’s face in response to a question about her position on marijuana.
Nevertheless, Harris’s move serves as yet another example of the rapid evolution in U.S. marijuana politics, with a growing number of high-profile lawmakers apparently recognizing the political capital of taking a pro-legalization approach to federal marijuana policy.