Cannabis reformers’ hope for cannabis legalization across the United States sits squarely on the shoulders of a former prosecutor who as recently as 2014 was laughing at reporters for asking her questions about legal weed. We are of course talking about Kamala Harris, the Democratic pick for Vice President—chosen by Joe Biden, virulently opposed to legalization (and a believer in the “gateway drug” myth), just weeks after the Democratic National Committee voted not to include legalization as part of its political platform.
All of which is to say that single-issue voters whose single issue is cannabis, should not hold out hope, or as The Outlaw Report noted a couple weeks ago, consider voting for the Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins or Jo Jorgensen the Libertarian Party candidate, both of whom have come out in support of cannabis legalization.
And about that LOL-ing at a reporter who asked her about legalization. It’s more than just a proudly conservative moment from Harris that now looks shockingly out of step (like Harris mocking protesters demanding “Schools not jails” or with a smile on her face, describing how she arrested the parents of truant students), it was a major moment for cannabis reform in California. Harris, who was running for a second term in 2014, was asked about her Republican opponent Rick Gold’s legalize it stance. Harris laughed and added, “he’s entitled to his opinion.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, more than 1,500 people were imprisoned for cannabis between 2011 and 2016 under Harris’ tenure as Attorney General.
It would seem that Harris’ approach to cannabis began to change after she joined the Senate (although she has consistently downplayed her previous anti-cannabis stances in interviews). Since 2018, Harris has been an advocate of cannabis legalization speaking out in support of Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act—something she opposed back in 2010, going as far as to coauthor the voter guide argument for California’s legalization back when she was a prosecutor opposing Proposition 21, which legalized and taxed cannabis. Harris stopped at medicinal cannabis, she said at the time, and sounding very much like a prosecutor, focused on how drug dealing “harms communities.”
Harris has in the past few years, changed her position on cannabis significantly. She is the Senate sponsor of The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
“We need to start regulating marijuana,” Harris said when she introduced the MORE Act. “And expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
In April, Harris was one of the 10 Democratic senators who requested federal support for cannabis companies during Covid-19, signing a letter which said, “[The Small Business Administration’s] current regulations exclude small businesses with ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing, including PPP and EIDL. Consequently, small business owners in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with or in a rapidly-growing and legal industry.”
And Harris rather awkwardly and proudly admitted to smoking during college on The Breakfast Club last year while also inaccurately, claiming she was smoking in college and listening to Snoop Dogg who was not recording music yet when Harris was in college.
Nevertheless, Harris’ position as Vice President, if President Donald Trump is defeated, is an encouraging move for cannabis reform on a federal level, if only because Harris—unlike Biden—has allowed her stance on cannabis to evolve, Reason’s Nick Gillespie recently wrote in “Former Drug Warrior Kamala Harris Wants To Legalize Pot. Can She Flip Joe Biden?”
“Her journey from collegiate smoker to prohibitionist to legalizer is a reminder that elected officials rarely actually lead on anything. They follow where the public is already headed, which in this case is toward more freedom and individual choice,” Gillespie wrote.
Photo illustration by Kathy Wyche.