Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) is undeniably a rising star in the Democratic party. Her announcement Thursday that she would back federal marijuana legalization has quickly propelled her to the ranks of progressive heavyweights like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A potential 2020 contender for the White House, Harris’s recent statements signal she is ready to move the country toward progressive marijuana and criminal justice reform.
Sen. Kamala Harris Vows To Support Federal Marijuana Legalization
As Sen. Kamala Harris joins the ranks of Marijuana Justice Act sponsors, she moves alongside progressive Democrats like Cory Booker, the bill’s sponsor, and Kirsten Gillibrand, who champion marijuana legalization as a social justice issue.
Sen. Booker’s legislation would remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of Schedule I controlled substances. But the justice component goes much further. The Marijuana Justice Act would additionally expunge the criminal records of any American with prior marijuana use or possession convictions.
It’s a radical proposal that would dramatically alter the criminal justice landscape in the United States. And that’s something for which Harris, former attorney general of California, has long fought.
“It’s the right thing to do. And I know this as a former prosecutor. I know this as a senator,” Harris said in a video posted by NowThis announcing her decision. “I just look at what we want as a country and where we need to be instead of where we’ve been.”
And where we’ve been, according to Harris and many who support cannabis legalization, has been a nightmare of racially disparate drug enforcement and incarceration. Where we’ve been, Harris says, is the failed war on drugs.
“The war on drugs was a war on communities. Not somebody smoking a joint,” Harris says in the video.
Making Good On Her Progressive Credentials
While Sen. Harris’s record on criminal justice reform is laudatory, her action on legal cannabis has been less so. Even so, Harris’s coming out to support Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act fits in with her long-standing critique of the criminal justice system.
As San Francisco’s district attorney and later as California’s attorney general, Harris adopted a number of progressive stances. The list is admirable, and includes significant measures like sentencing reform and adopting measures to reduce recidivism in California’s over-populated prison system.
Harris was also a vocal supporter of the Affordable Care Act and defended the rights of same-sex couples to marry. And she was responsible for getting California’s justice department to adopt body cameras and mandate implicit racial bias training for its police officers. She’s even gone after polluters and corporate fraudsters.
With Trump in office and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Kamala has become an even more outspoken progressive. She has supported single-payer healthcare along with Bernie Sanders and is a backer of free college tuition for low-income households.
All of that is impressive and praiseworthy, even if critics of Harris point out that her deeds have not always follow her words.
Unfortunately, those criticisms seemed especially valid when it came to Harris’s stance on marijuana. While she frequently blasted the war on drugs as a failure, as California AG she took no meaningful action on drug reform. In fact, in some cases, she endorsed the “tough on crime” policies of her conservative colleagues.
Of course, that was then and this is now. And politicians have pivoted more rapidly toward legalization than Harris. Whatever disappointments Harris’s past record on marijuana may cause, her statements Thursday make clear that in 2018, the senator is completely on board with justice for cannabis users.
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