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.