Amid a slate of presidential candidates who are more pro-cannabis than ever, California Senator Kamala Harris is being called out about her anti-marijuana past.
Serving as the top law enforcement official in California from 2011 to 2017, Harris’ tenure as attorney general got called into question during the July democratic debates, where Hawaiian Congressional Representative Tulsi Gabbard pointed out her flip-flopping on cannabis legalization.
“Kamala Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record,” Gabbard said during the debate. “There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
Gabbard made the argument against Harris, who has promised to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level in recent years. Despite being a co-signer of fellow candidate Cory Brooker’s Marijuana Justice Act and attempting to remove the hurdles from cannabis research, Gabbard made it known she doesn’t trust Harris’ record.
Her calling out of Harris did well with the debate audience, garnering large applause and quick social media activity against the former prosecutor.
Harris defended herself by saying: “I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done… And I am proud of that work.”
Gabbard’s statement, while partially correct, was later fact-checked by Mercury News, a San Jose, California newspaper, where they said:
While pointing out that Harris has a mixed stance on marijuana, the news site continued that “the attorney general’s office doesn’t directly prosecute the vast majority of drug cases in the state. That’s up to the individual district attorneys in each county, and it’s wrong to say Harris put those people in jail.”
Harris has turned her stance around since her early days in office, however, it is worth noting the almost decade of work she did before becoming a Senator.
What’s Her Record On Cannabis?
As a prosecutor and attorney general, her previous record on marijuana in California isn’t very progressive or accepting of the plant.
She took a hard stance against marijuana throughout her time as the state’s attorney, consistently making it known that she was against it. Harris defends her stance by saying that as an illegal drug she was only doing her job to stop it, however, she did cause roadblocks for the pro-legalization movement.
In 2010, she opposed Proposition 19, a bill that would have legalized and taxed cannabis for adults in the state of California. Harris called the bill flawed and her campaign later clarified that she “supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that” and that she “believes that drug selling harms communities,” according to Rolling Stone.
A year later she would once again say that she supported medical marijuana, but did not support legalization, saying: “Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana. While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.”
She was so adamantly against legalization at the time, that the cannabis lobby in the state through their support behind her Republican challenger in 2014, who was for legalization.
When the 2016 initiative that legalized cannabis in California came around, she made no public stance on it.
Where Is She On Cannabis Now?
While her past record on cannabis is hasn’t been friendly, she has made significant strides since becoming a Senator.
In 2017, Harris made her first steps toward a marijuana-friendly attitude after calling out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was attempting to roll out harsher penalties for cannabis.
“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,” Harris said. “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.”
In 2018, she began supporting legalization efforts such as the Marijuana Justice Act and began calling for decriminalization. Harris also started noting the need for expunging low-level offenses and making changes to how marijuana is researched.
She joked in an interview on The Breakfast Club that she has smoked weed before and she did “inhale.” However, she also said that she when she did smoke as a student at Howard University that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac’s albums, which did not come out until more than five years after she graduated.
While the gaffe has mostly been laughed off, Gabbard wasn’t laughing when she pointed it out in the debate.
Most recently, she introduced the MORE Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge low-level offenses and allocate funds toward communities of color that have been impacted by the War on Drugs.
Compared to her opponents, the majority of whom support legalization, she isn’t the harshest. Current front-runner Joe Biden was one of the primary architects behind the War on Drugs and still isn’t super friendly toward it.
Considering that American’s support legalization more than ever, it’s fair to say she won’t be changing her tune on cannabis in the meantime, however, the 2020 election is still more than a year away.