Kamala Harris, the 2020 vice presidential nominee, pledged during an ABC News Facebook Livestream that under Biden’s administration, marijuana would be decriminalized and the records of those convicted of using marijuana would be expunged, according to Teen Vogue.
Although the Facebook Livestream appears unavailable right now, Teen Vogue reported that Harris said, “There needs to be significant change in the design of the system.” This is a departure from some of her earlier positions when she was Attorney General of California, but does follow some legislation she wrote as a senator.
Harris’ Position on Marijuana Has Changed Overtime
Here is what Teen Vogue reported Harris said:
Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone. This is no time … for half-steppin’, this is no time for incrementalism.
Both Biden and Harris have records reflective of the “tough-on-crime” political perspective. Throughout Harris’ career as a prosecutor and attorney general, she took a stance against decriminalization for most of it. In 2011, Harris said, “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,” Rolling Stone reported.
Harris also opposed Proposition 19, a measure that would legalize and tax marijuana for California residents over the age of 21. She called the proposition a “flawed public policy” and a potential public safety issue, Capitol Weekly reported.
Biden was also in favor of more tough-on-crime measures. He was supportive of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — also known as the 1994 crime bill — which introduced stiffer penalties for various types of drug use. The bill also famously introduced mandatory minimums for marijuana as well as other drugs, as the Brennan Center reported.
However, research conducted at various institutions, including Child Trends and the Equal Justice Initiative, found that school suspensions and criminal justice penalties were being disproportionately applied to Black and Latino Americans.
Many have called on the Biden administration to go a step further and support legalization, which would lead to marijuana being regulated like alcohol. However, Harris has only supported decriminalization (which would remove the criminal penalty for marijuana possession and/or use) and descheduling the drug (which would reclassify it from a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act to the highest classification, a lower schedule drug, as the Brookings Institution explained).
Harris Introduced the MORE Act During Her Presidential Campaign
Before she was chosen as Biden’s vice-presidential pick, Harris introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act as a California senator and presidential candidate.
That bill, which was introduced July 23, 2019, would “decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”
The bill Harris introduced into the Republican-controlled Senate has not received a vote yet, but the exact same bill is being voted on in the House of Representatives this September. According to Politico, it is the first time Congress has voted on descheduling marijuana.
The bill appears to have strong support among Democrats, who control the House of Representatives. According to Norml, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said that the vote could represent “a chance to end a failed policy”:
Less than two years ago, we put out our blueprint outlining a path to cannabis legalization in the 116th Congress. Now, after many months of hard work and collaboration, we finally have a chance to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against people of color, especially Black men. As people across the country protest racial injustices, there’s even greater urgency for Congress to seize this historic opportunity and finally align our cannabis laws with what the majority of Americans support, while ensuring restorative justice.
It even garnered some Republican support from Representatives Matt Gaetz and Tom McClintock, Politico reported.