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.
People convicted of federal, nonviolent marijuana offenses or drug possession would have their records automatically sealed under a U.S. House bill introduced Tuesday.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) filed the bill—dubbed the Clean Slate Act—which stipulates that criminal records should be sealed exactly one year after a person serves out their sentence, so long as they don’t commit crimes again.
Twenty other representatives have already cosponsored the legislation, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
“At the time of sentencing of a covered individual for a conviction pursuant to section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act or of any Federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana, the court shall enter an order that each record and portion thereof that relates to the offense shall be sealed automatically on the date that is one year after the covered individual fulfills each requirement of the sentence, except that such record shall not be sealed if the individual has been convicted of a subsequent criminal offense.”
The Clean Slate Act is the latest in a string of bills that aim to reform federal drug laws, with a particular emphasis on cannabis.
Though not quite as wide-ranging as bills such as the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with a companion House bill from Lee, the primary objective is similar: mitigate the long-term harms of the federal drug war by giving nonviolent offenders a second chance.
As more states have moved to legalize, marijuana-related convictions have fallen demonstrably at the federal level, according to a United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) report released in June. That said, drug crimes still account for the bulk of the federal caseload.
In 2017, about 1,300 federal drug convictions were for “the simple possession of a drug” alone.
If this bill passes, eligible individuals who have previously served out their sentence would be able to submit a petition to a U.S. district court in order to get their records cleaned.
The bill also requires district courts to keep track of things like how many petitions are granted or rejected—information that would be included in a public report.
While a growing majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal, an even larger percentage of the population (73 percent) believes that criminal records should be automatically sealed for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses, according to a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress.
Via Center for American Progress
“The Clean Slate Act is important legislation that would ease the burden felt by those unjustly suffering the collateral consequences resulting from cannabis prohibition,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.
“Individuals saddled with a marijuana possession conviction are disproportionately either people of color or at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and it is essential that they are not held back from being able to obtain employment, housing, access to higher education, and all of the other necessities of being an active participant in their community. Having been arrested for mere marijuana possession does not make one a bad person, but rather a victim of a cruel public policy.”
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
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.