Sen. Harris Defends Record on Cannabis During Dem Debate: 'I Am an Advocate' for Legalization

August 1, 2019
Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Calif.) record on cannabis and criminal justice came under fire Wednesday during the second round of Democratic debates in Detroit. Fellow Democratic hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) called her out for her controversial criminal justice record and insisted Harris owes victims of her actions “an apology.”
“I'm concerned about this record of Senator Harris. 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 said, referencing a February interview in which Harris joked about smoking pot in college.
Harris’ record as California’s Attorney General has long been an issue of interest for critics and cannabis advocates who question the way she positions herself as a “progressive” prosecutor. Her record shows she adopted many of the “tough on crime” policies that were popular among Democrats at the time, Vox reported.
Concerning her record on drugs, Harris opposed Proposition 19 in 2010, a recreational cannabis legalization initiative endorsed at the time by the American Civil Liberties Union as "restoring some measure of faith in the fairness of our criminal justice system." Four years later, she laughed at a reporter during a 2014 interview when asked about a Republican opponent’s support for recreational cannabis legalization, Forbes reported.
“The bottom line is, Sen. Harris, when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in peoples’ lives you did not,” Gabbard said. “The people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor, you owe them an apology.”
Harris was quick to defend herself, saying she was “proud” of her work reforming the criminal justice system in California, and she underscored her evolving cannabis platform. Harris endorsed Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act in May, and released her own cannabis bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, along with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) last week.
“It is why ー and because I know that criminal justice system is so broken ー that I am an advocate for what we need to do to not only decriminalize, but legalize, marijuana in the United States,” she said on Wednesday.
Gabbard wasn’t the only candidate to bring up cannabis on Wednesday. Booker, who has emerged as a staunch advocate for a criminal justice approach to cannabis, called for federal legalization.
“We have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform, like having true marijuana justice, which means we legalize it on a federal level and reinvest the profits in communities that have been disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement,” he said.
He was addressing former Vice President Joe Biden, who released his own take on cannabis legalization last week before the second round of debates. Biden, who has positioned himself as more moderate, is an outlier on cannabis among the Democratic candidates, in that he does not support recreational cannabis legalization. His platform, however, does include cannabis decriminalization, and other provisions like automatic record expungement and the elimination of incarceration for cannabis use.
Cheddar's Justin Chermol contributed reporting.
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