With the California senator’s recent announcement as Joe Biden’s vice president, many people in and outside of the cannabis industry wonder how, if elected, Kamala Harris will treat the cannabis industry. As her home state of California legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, some believe that Harris will be a friend to the industry if she ends up in the White House in 2021. Still, when closely examining Harris’s history concerning marijuana legislation and enforcement, a less than clear picture emerges. Additionally, recent comments she made during her failed presidential bid have been pointed out by observers to be a shift from prior public remarks made about the drug. Let’s take a closer look at Harris’s positions and public statements surrounding cannabis.
As District Attorney Of San Francisco, Harris Oversaw 1900 Cannabis Convictions
As San Francisco’s district attorney from 2003 to 2010, Harris oversaw 1900 cannabis-related convictions. Critics have pointed out that this figure is higher than her predecessors. Conversely, it has been noted that of the 1900 convictions, only a small percentage of people were actually sent to prison, and those arrested for low-level possession offenses were never incarcerated at all. It should also be noted that during Harris’s time as district attorney, no state legalized recreational usage, indicating that society’s view toward the drug had not yet shifted toward its current form.
As Attorney General, Harris Apparently Wasn’t A Fan Of Legalization
After serving as San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris went on to be elected as California’s attorney general in 2010. In her capacity as attorney general, Harris simply laughed in the face of a journalist who asked about her republican attorney general opponent’s support for legalizing marijuana. She also declined to support California’s cannabis legalization ballot measure that voters approved in 2016.
As U.S. Senator, Harris Has Changed Her Tune
Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2017. Not long after, her public position and official actions began to evidence a shift in her stance towards cannabis legalization. In fact, Harris suggests that we need to legalize marijuana and regulate it based in part on resolving racial disparities in cannabis enforcement. She also suggested that we should “expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.” Harris voiced her support and joined in as a co-sponsor for legislation that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and which would withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory cannabis enforcement policies. Harris remarked, “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.”
With prominent marijuana activists endorsing the selection of Harris as Biden’s running mate, and her recent action and statements in support of legalization, she at a minimum would not likely stand in the way of marijuana reform, even if she was directly responsible for perpetuating the War on Drugs for so many years. It remains to be seen how her seemingly evolved positions will affect the cannabis community, if she ultimately enters the White House in 2021.