On January 21, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced that she is running for president in 2020, making her one of many pro-reform Democrats to enter the race. A former prosecutor, she has not always been a proponent of marijuana reform. In 2014, for example, she laughed when asked about legalization. In recent years, however, she has fully endorsed an end to federal prohibition as well as other reform bills, earning her an A grade from NORML, and she is making legalization part of her platform.
As a U.S. Senator, Harris joined the federal reform bandwagon in 2016, when she said she would support rescheduling. In 2018, she joined with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in supporting the Marijuana Justice Act (MJA), tweeting: “The fact is, marijuana laws are not applied and enforced in the same way for all people. That’s why I’ve signed onto @CoryBooker’s Marijuana Justice Act to make marijuana legal at the federal level. It’s the smart thing to do.”
As Harris points out in a press release, the MJA is sweeping in its provisions, going beyond legalization to include justice reform. The release states: “The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.” In addition, the MJA would “[a]utomatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes.”
Her advocacy for criminal justice reform, including reform of federal marijuana law, is hard to miss on social media. For example, she has released a video on Facebook describing why she supports the MJA. She has also supported reform on Twitter. Last December she tweeted: “Here’s the quantifiable truth: America’s marijuana laws are not applied or enforced in the same way for all people. We can’t let our country keep making the same mistakes of the past–it’s time to legalize marijuana at the federal level.” And in January 2018: [then Attorney General Jeff] “Sessions needs to leave grandma’s medical marijuana alone.” Given the public support that legalization now has, it seems highly unlikely that she will walk back such statements during her presidential campaign.
In the Senate, Harris has backed up these statements with support for not only the MJA but other bills as well. She co-sponsored the SAFE Act, which would have prohibited federal banking regulators from “prohibiting or otherwise discouraging a depository institution from offering financial services” to “marijuana-related business” and protected banks from liability for providing financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses. In addition to her joint legislative efforts with Booker, Harris coauthored a letter with Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee, to Sessions, urging him to change the policy of his Department of Justice and expand medical research into cannabis. The letter points out that
The benefits of research are unquestionable….Ninety-two percent of veterans support federal research on marijuana, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is aware that many veterans have been using marijuana to manage the pain of their wartime wounds. America’s heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering.
Harris’s change over four years from laughing at the suggestion of legalization to fully supporting it is a sign of how far marijuana reform has come, and she is not alone among the Democratic candidates. Her fellow Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, for example, also support an end to federal prohibition.
What do you think? What are Harris’s chances in 2020? If she or another Democrat wins, will federal prohibition end? Leave a comment below.