In her 2019 book, The Truths We Hold, California Senator and Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris detailed her support for marijuana legalization and the need to expunge all non-violent marijuana-related records. She wrote “We need to expunge non-violent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.”
Harris’s current stance plays to the two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana and 76 percent of her fellow Democratic lawmakers.
Kamala Harris wasn’t always a supporter of legalization. When she was elected as California’s Attorney General in 2010, she opposed a then-statewide ballot initiative to green light recreational marijuana. At the time, Harris would only support medical marijuana. But her views on marijuana have changed drastically over the past decade — as have the American public’s, for that matter.
Then in 2015, in her senatorial campaign, Harris flip-flopped and called for the end of a federal ban on marijuana and suggested that it should be decriminalized. A year later, following her election, Harris noted that, “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.”
“I’ll tell you what standing up for the people also means,” Harris also said in 2015. “It means challenging the policy of mass incarceration by recognizing the war on drugs was a failure.
In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Harris said “I started my career as a baby prosecutor during the height of the crack epidemic—not all drugs are equal.”
“We have over-criminalized so many people, in particular poor youth and men of color, in communities across this country and we need to move it on the schedule,” she said. “Plus we need to start researching the effect of marijuana and we have not been able to do it because of where it is on the schedule.”
In 2018, she took a giant step forward by backing legislation that advocated for the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. Harris was particularly critical of President Trump’s original Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who frequently attempted to go after medical-marijuana businesses in legal states, and he rolled back protections on marijuana providers in legalized states. She said the Justice Department shouldn’t be focused on “going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”
“It’s time to end mass incarceration,” Harris Tweeted. “This includes legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons. With the addition of job training and education, these actions will reduce crime and help build healthy communities.”
Most recently, Kamala Harris was a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, along with Sen. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). The MORE Act was the first comprehensive marijuana-reform legislation ever voted on in Congress — and it passed by a vote of 24-10 in the House Judiciary Committee.
“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” Harris said when introducing the bill. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
“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,” she said in a press release. “Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
Beyond the MORE Act and Marijuana Justice Act, Harris has also co-sponsored the SAFE Banking Act, which would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from federal punishment.
Now, in the spotlight of a presidential campaign beside running mate Joe Biden, Harris could play an important role in the push for marijuana reform. She, did after all, admit to having “inhaled” in college and even being a fan of Tupac and Snoop.
Vincent Sliwoski, a managing partner at law firm Harris Bricken, says Harris is more progressive on cannabis reform—now, at least—than Biden ever was. If the Democratic ticket wins, she would likely have the most progressive views on cannabis of anyone ever in the presidential cabinet.
“It’s all encouraging,” Sliwoski said. “I hope she’ll push him pretty hard” on criminal justice reform, the war on drugs and social justice issues.
Harris’s presidential campaign website hosts a petition to legalize marijuana. action.kamalaharris.org